What kinds of feelings or images come to mind when you hear the word ‘confess’? Do you feel shame, condemnation, or embarrassment? Do you think of horrible acts confessed to in a court of law? Or maybe you picture someone or yourself in a dark confessional booth kneeling before a priest asking for God’s forgiveness. Whatever the image or feelings around it, they probably aren’t positive or joyful…
Growing up in a Catholic home, there came a time when I had to attend my first confession. It is one of the seven sacraments of the church. I remember it well because it had a profound effect on me.
It was during a very brief period when I was attending parochial school in the 5th grade. All students in our grade were participating in this sacrament. I remember a special mass (church service) was held for this particular purpose. It wasn’t like a first communion sort of event—no frilly white dresses, no family gatherings or photos. It was during school hours. The students lined up single file, pew by pew, waiting for our turn to ‘meet’ the priest.
I pushed back the heavy drape concealing the confessional booth, knelt on the padded cushion, and waited briefly for the priest to open his adjoining window. Then I said the prescribed prayer and confessed my sins. At ten years of age what were my sins? I don’t remember exactly—maybe lying or cursing.
The priest’s response still resonates with me to this day. He said, “Is THAT all?” (Or at least that is the way it sounded to me.) Instead of relief from my sin, I immediately felt shame and judgment. I quickly scanned my memory for another sin. I couldn’t think of any. He absolved me of my sin, but it didn’t feel like I had received forgiveness or anything like the love of Jesus. I never went to confession again.
That incident led to decades of holding onto my sin. Even later on in my Protestant church settings, there didn’t seem to be any guidance on what to do with my sin. I wasn’t convicted of it at the time, and so it just got heaped onto the pile of unconfessed sin, and buried me in guilt and shame.
When I entered my recovery process several years ago all of that changed. Step 5 says: “We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.” (Please note, this says ‘Step 5’. The steps are in sequence for a reason.)
Step 5 doesn’t mean we come to CR meetings and confess our sins.
Open meetings are the avenue to start connecting with other people who are struggling with life—with their hurts, habits, and hang-ups. They take down their masks of perfectionism and pride, and reveal their inner pain—to the degree that they feel comfortable. It is through these initial connections and meetings that we start to feel safe in relationship. We learn to trust others. We feel accepted for who we are.
The real fruit of Step 5 is when we are sharing our personal inventory (created in Step 4) with one other person, our sponsor. By the time we reach this point, we have already developed an accountability team of Believers around us who support us and love us right where we are. We also have an on-going relationship with our sponsor. That sponsor doesn’t absolve us of our sin; they meet us in the pain, pray for us and encourage us to take the next steps on the road to recovery. They are Jesus to us.
If you’ve reached this point in your recovery, you know that with confession brings freedom, not condemnation. It doesn’t miraculously become easy to confess our sin, but once we start doing so in safe settings (as well as to God), we come to more fully understand the fruit of confession, and we are healed. And that kind of confession is good for the soul.
“Therefore, confess your sins to each other, and pray for each other, so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)
Contributed by a leader at Celebrate Recovery on the Plateau.