My palms were already sweaty. I had only been in line for 10 minutes. All day I had agonized about this moment. I prayed, searched, reflected and managed to make a meager list. Surely, I had more sins than these. What was I leaving out? The line moved forward. It is hard to look at the people leaving confession. Why were they crying? What was going on in that room? My mouth was starting to get dry.
Of all the things I love about the Catholic faith, confession is not one of them. Now, don’t get me wrong. Theologically, the sacrament is beautiful. It is amazing. And I am fully aware that it is commanded of us by our Lord. However, it is not easy. It is somewhat messy. And it turns me into a nervous wreck. In fact, I feared it so much that I stayed away from the sacrament for a number of years. So, I know how un-confessed sin can eat away at one’s soul. The brick walls I built between me and the Lord were thick and cold. But all it took was one confession, and the bricks started to crumble. I remember that feeling of freedom as the mercy and love of the Lord washed over me in that confessional.
So, why does getting in this line still create such waves of anxiety? Why does the idea of saying my sins out loud to a priest send me straight for the Xanax? I know the consequences of staying out of the line. And I know the wonderful benefits of staying in the line. But it doesn’t seem to help me choose the line.
I could blame it on past experience. I could blame it on the ministers that were happy to see me leave their church all those years ago. Maybe that is why I don’t want to trust the Priest with who I really am. But, I feel like I am past that. I confronted those demons years ago. I took those burdensome rocks out of my back pack and I have moved on. I made peace with the fact that if they didn’t do what they did, I wouldn’t have found the Catholic faith. My past seems to be my excuse rather than the true issue. Besides, I now work in the Church. I work alongside the priests, deacons and other ministry staff and I am perfectly comfortable in their presence.
The line inches forward again and I am now just three people away from the door. I look at my list. It seems silly and laughable. I don’t know why I am even here. I am not good at this. A child could come up with a better list. I would like to get out of line and get some water, but there are at least 50 people behind me. I know I wouldn’t get back in line.
I didn’t grow up in the Catholic faith. Maybe that is why this is so difficult for me. I never had to do this in the Baptist church. In fact, because we believed that your sins were forgiven when you invited Jesus to live in your heart, sin was never really talked about or focused on. We never examined our lives for sin but rather tried to live the life of a good Christian. We focused on making the right choices for that morally upstanding, charitable life and we did not focus on the mistakes we made. Searching for sin in my soul is a foreign concept. Even after 14 years of being a confirmed Catholic, I am still epically bad at it. Why can’t I figure this out?
There is now only one person in front of me. I feel my heart beating faster. The adrenaline is reaching atomic levels. Why do I get so worked up? Why do I let the anxiety capture me is such a way? What do I fear?
As I stand here thinking about the reason for the fear, an image of a mirror enters my mind. Yep, that is what I fear. I fear that mirror. I don’t want to see who I really am. I don’t want to see my soul the way Christ sees it. In this world, I can hide my sins pretty well. I can be the person others admire and look up to. I can act the part eloquently. But the picture I paint of who I am is not reflected in the mirror. In order to examine my conscience, I have to take a long look at myself in that mirror.
I am such a fallen human. I would make the same choice as Eve. I would throw the first stone at the adulterous woman. I would be in the crowd calling for Jesus’ crucifixion. Why do I know this? Because I possess the same sin as this crowd- pride. I don’t want to look in that mirror because of pride. I am too proud to admit what I have done because it reflects who I really am. Pride is the root of this anxiety. Pride keeps me from the confessional.
It’s my turn. I walk into the dimly lit room like a bull in a china shop. I almost knock over the plant as I trip and pretty much fall into the chair across from the Priest. He smiles. He knows I get myself undone over this experience. It is a little humorous that a confident woman who enjoys speaking to large groups of teens and adults about the love of Christ can get so undone in this small room with and audience of one. I smile back as we both find humor in the irony. He knows me well, and the shared smile sets me at ease.
Recently, in prayer experience, I had a vision of myself wearing a black, ugly coat. I looked horrid. The coat was heavy with dirt, ragged and torn. I really hated the coat and I wanted to take it off. I tried and I couldn’t figure it out. I quickly gave up. I looked up, and I saw Jesus in all of his splendor walking towards me. He was radiant and beautiful. As he got closer, I realized I was still wearing the coat. I tried again to get it off. I couldn’t do it. I started to panic as Jesus approached me. I wanted to hide, but there was nowhere to go. Jesus was now standing in front of me. He lifted me chin so that he could look in my eyes. I was pulling at the coat, trying to get it off. I apologized that he had to seem me this way. I told him I couldn’t get it off and that I was sorry I had let my coat get so horrible. He smiled and to my amazement, he took the coat off of me. He threw it on the ground. Then, he took off his white, spotless coat and put it over my shoulders. I told him that I couldn’t accept it because I was going to get it dirty. It was much too nice for me to wear. He looked in my eyes and said, “If you get it dirty, just come back to me, and I’ll make it clean again. I love you very much and I want you to look your best when I finally present you to my father.”
As I tell Father all about my pride once again, I can feel the coat coming off. I can see the sins being washed away. The coat is becoming beautiful as the day Jesus gave it to me. Jesus puts it back over my shoulders and Father sends me on my way with a clean coat- a clean soul. All the anxiety is worth this experience. It is incredibly awesome to show Jesus who I really am and to hear him say, “It’s alright. I love you anyway. Keep trying. I am making you a beautiful gift for my Father.” Yep, that is much better than Xanax.