Confession of our sins is at the heart of Christian beliefs. How can we bring our whole selves—heart, soul, mind and body– before God in love, as Jesus commanded, without confessing all that we are, all that we have said and done that is contrary to His message, all that was done to us? How can we claim that we put God first in our lives, if we don’t tear down the walls of guilt and shame that stand between us and God? Between us and other people? How can we live with ourselves as Christians, if we don’t bring our whole selves to God in love? When we bring our whole selves to God in love, He will cleanse us of all our sin; He will heal and transform us, and we will live in a wholly, even holy, new way. It is a process, I believe, of revealing first our words and actions, but then going much deeper into ourselves to reveal our motivations for what we have said and done.
The Holy Spirit over time will highlight in us what needs to be confessed. He will guide us step-by-step into a deeper and deeper relationship with God. All we need to do is to listen to him and to heed what He asks of us. As we take this journey into ourselves, we will also discover all that we have been created to be. And the Holy Spirit will reveal our purpose to us, how we are to use our God-given gifts and talents in His service. We could call confession the unveiling of the true self, of the soul and all that God intends for us as we acknowledge and own all that we are. This is a beautiful process that ties us in all that we do to God’s leading in our whole lives, not just for church of Sundays, but in our work life, in our families, in our leisure—in every aspect of our lives God wants to be involved. Because He gave us free will, He will not just come in and take over without our permission, so with each issue He highlights for us; when we say, “Sure, heal that one, too,” He has our permission to lead, to guide, to heal us.
And what do we get out of this process of confession and forgiveness? The freedom to be exactly who we are, doing what we were created to do, with God’s presence with us in everything we do. We are supported, our needs are met, our burdens are carried for us. We are never alone.
There are ritual confessions either to a priest in the Catholic church or as part of the worship service in many protestant denominations. Then there are the confessions that come from reading Jesus teachings or the Old Testament’s Ten Commandments and seeing how far short of God’s standard we fall. That’s a spontaneous confession in the context of studying the Bible.
In addition, there are the tendencies in us that the Holy Spirit highlights in us. The biggest one for me came one day in my late 40’s. This thought came into my mind and it stopped me cold: “How can I say I love God if I cannot love my mother?” It took me two years of trying to love my Mom, before God just healed us both. I had been passive-aggressive with my Mom since I was a teen-ager. I never felt she got who I was and I resented it. Now, confronted by that thought, I began to try to engage her as an adult. But I ran right up against both my parents’ admonition to not talk back to them. Every time, I tried to engage her as I would a friend of mine or another adult, agreeing some and disagreeing some, I felt like a total bitch. Whatever I was doing in trying to change didn’t work at all.
After my husband and I spent one weekend with her, in which I was stung by my own bitchiness, she took us to the train station to see us off. And while we were standing on that platform, we were surrounded by a cloud of love—that’s what I experienced. My husband felt it, too, but I think my mother was unaware of what was happening. That whole train-ride from Delaware to Connecticut all I could think was that God took my bitchiness and made it into love.
From that day forward, I was able to love my mother as she was. She was forever grateful for every single thing I did for her from then on. It was a 180 degree change from her usual: “you don’t call enough, or visit often enough or stay long enough!” And I was able to love her.
If we are listening to the Holy Spirit, we will hear small calls and big ones to open up to His healing ways. Any time we feel embarrassed about what we have just said or done, anytime we don’t measure up to the teachings, we will feel it in our conscience. Or when we become aware of old pain or suffering, and know that we are not healed. The Lord is working in us to free us of the domination of the past or fears of the future, so that we can come to live in the present with Him. Once we are aware of any of these situations that stand between us and God, then we need to prayerfully lift them up to God.
God asks our permission to enter into our lives and to heal us; He will not violate our own free will. One way that I have used over a long period of time was taught to me by my first spiritual director. It’s called setting intentions. When there is an issue in us that needs to be addressed, say our fears, we set an intention to live without fear in the most positive way we can. We gather our whole selves—body, mind, soul and heart—to commit to this. And that’s it. It’s an open invitation for God to heal whatever the issue is.
The first time I tried it, I set an intention to be whole (since I had always been so scattered), something I had never before experienced. And then I forgot about it. Four or five months later I was feeling integrated, no longer in pieces. As I thought back on the previous months, I realized that this brand-new feeling was the result of the intention I had set. I had not done anything; the Holy Spirit had done the work in me! All He needed was my permission. Since then I have set intentions for many different issues, all of which were resolved in me! And I continue to set them.
Confession isn’t an easy thing to do, but it is the most freeing thing we can do. It frees us from hiding our guilt and shame—which takes a great deal of our most precious energy. It frees us to live in the truth, rather than hiding the truth about us. And it allows God to heal all our pain and suffering. What more could we want?
I’ll end with a quote from Rob Bell:
“For many the word confession is tied up in what they perceive to be archaic ideas about God and judgment and condemnation and how bad we are and how God just can’t wait to crush us.
confession is about liberation,
naming the darkness and pain that lies within and, in
naming it, robbing it of its power.”
 Rob Bell, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, HarperOne, NY, 2013, p. 190-191