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On the Spiritual Discipline of Confession

As a part of the Lenten season, we have included a prayer of confession as part of our worship service reminding ourselves that we are dust and to dust we shall return:

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have done wrong, and strayed from your ways like lost sheep. We have followed the desires of our own hearts too much. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we should not have done. O Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer of confession. AMEN.
Even though I knew it was coming as part of the service, I still found myself struggling through the “we have done those things which we should not have done.” Even though it was a communal confession, the truth of those words overcame me.

Confession as a spiritual discipline was not part of my upbringing. My understanding of the confession that took place across the street at the Catholic church was that it was an excuse to keep on sinning because it allowed you to do what you wanted to do, receive absolution, and go on your merry way.

I was so wrong in my understanding of this deeply spiritual act. 

For me, the admission of being wrong or of having conducted myself in a way I don’t believe honors nor represents what it means to be a follower and disciples of Christ is gut-wrenchingly difficult. I was taught to be right, to be certain in regards to matters of faith and the Bible. I was taught to have the answers ready at any moment and somehow in that teaching, I was never taught how to be wrong and to come to terms with being wrong.


I was comfortable admitting I was a sinner because everyone was a sinner, but when it comes to specific matters and circumstances, I pass the blame and redirect the conversation with ease and often without detection. I defend and deflect ensuring my perspective and view is heard while avoiding the whole question of whether I heaped shame and guilt on another child of God. There’s always a reason why I “did the thing I shouldn’t have done;” and because I have a reason, I hope I could just avoid the whole question of responsibility and culpability.

And even in those moments when I recognize and acknowledge that I have “done the things I ought not to have done,” publicly confessing to that is not something I’d like to do. But confess I must not only because it’s Lent, but because this is an important spiritual discipline.

Until we can rid ourselves of the need to be right, we are only dust and to dust we shall return. When we can confess to our dusty nature without abandon and truly embrace this part of our very being not just on Ash Wednesday, not just during Lent, but always, then and only then will we be able to have room to be love and kindness to those we meet.

It’s not until we can confess to those parts of ourselves we’d rather not admit are there that we can offer peace and light to others when their dustiness shows in the same way ours does in “doing the things we ought not to have done.”

O Lord, in your mercy, hear this my prayer of confession.