I come to your altar battered and bruised by my sin, seeking your forgiveness for what I have done and for what I have left undone.
Give me humility and a renewed commitment to you so that I might offer my life wholly so you can make me holy. Forgive my sin which feels so very great and burdensome. I know that my wrongdoing keeps me from you. Change me. I desire restoration of my life in Christ, and want to repent of all that has taken me from you. Create in me such a desire for you, that my sinful ways will be utterly unappealing. Give me the grace to remember that repentance is not self-improvement but total reliance on you.
I know that not accepting your forgiveness keeps me from you. And I believe that this breaks your heart just as it does mine …
I know that Jesus has given enough to undo the sin of the entire cosmos …. I beg you for the grace to believe this is big enough forgiveness even for my sin, that this inexhaustible love is enough to change and forgive even me. Amen.
I wrote that confession at a time in my life when it felt like my world was falling apart. It was a time when I longed for God’s presence but felt such sadness, failure, and shame that I could not imagine myself as God’s beloved, could not imagine ever being right with the world again, could not imagine myself forgiven. While that was a profoundly difficult time, one of the many ways God redeemed my suffering was by offering the grace that began my journey into the heart of forgiveness. What does it mean to be forgiven and how does God’s forgiveness change me? What happens to me when I forgive others? What happens when I don’t? What happens to me when I forgive myself? And what happens when I don’t? I will spend my lifetime on these questions, not because I haven’t been offered answers, but because I still struggle with forgiveness – much more with myself than with others – and because the answers deepen as I continue to pray the questions.
Because Lent offers us the opportunity to examine our lives and to clear away the things that keep God at a distance, it is the perfect time to contemplate the many ways forgiveness restores our relationships – with God, with each other and with ourselves. It is the perfect time to allow God’s love to soften hardened hearts and unforgiving natures. Lent is a time to remember that God’s very nature is love and that forgiveness necessarily derives from love, that God is sensitive and vulnerable to us, and that no matter how far away we find ourselves, God is always longing for us, seeking to renew and restore all of our relationships. Lent is a time to remember that the impulse to repent and the desire for forgiveness spring from God’s longing for our reconciliation, not from our own, and that God knows how to soften us so that we can become vulnerable. Because it is only in being truly vulnerable (which can be really scary, and why we need God in it) that our hearts fully open to God’s all-encompassing love. Lent is a time to remember to listen, to cooperate, and to recognize that God’s forgiveness, freely offered, leads to a change of heart. God’s forgiveness is not the reward for having changed our lives, but the very source and condition of that change. Forgiveness is ever-present to us and for us. It requires nothing from us. It is, because God loves us. There is nothing we can do to make it happen and there is nothing we can do to make it not happen.
But what happens when we don’t feel forgiven, when we feel as I did when I wrote my confession? What happens when we think we’re not worthy of God’s love and the forgiveness it carries? What happens when we come to communion week after week bearing the same burden, the same grudge, the same shame, the same unshakeable habits or attitudes? When we find ourselves in this place, it’s time to give up. Oh, I don’t mean give up on God or give up on forgiveness or give up on ourselves. I mean give up the striving, the trying, and the self-flagellation that comes with it all. When we are at our wit’s end, when we feel so sad or stuck or hurt or grief-stricken that we’ve lost all hope, it’s time to give up our illusions of ability and control and instead, become vulnerable, tender, and real. When we are striving, when we are working so hard to be better, it’s hard for God to get in. But when we are tender, when we let our hearts crack open, we open up a place for God to get in. And once that happens, it isn’t so scary to confess our brokenness. In fact, it becomes a relief. Private confession and the absolution that accompanies it in the Sacrament of Reconciliation offer a profound experience of God’s grace. The soul-satisfying Sacrament of Reconciliation is always available to us, but is particularly meaningful in the context of Lent and Holy Week. Any of your priests would be happy to talk with you about receiving this sacrament.
The confession that began this writing also began my preparation to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time. It was a profoundly holy experience for me, because my sins – the very difficult ideas and attitudes and hurts I had been unable to free myself of – were actually put away. Gone. Finished. Forgiveness is always present to us. It is the state of grace in which we live and move and have our being. Absolution, on the other hand, is a gift of the church bestowed upon us when we confess and are truly repentant. In absolution, we are reconciled to God and to the Body of Christ and the spiritual effects of sin are gone.
Is there sin in your life for which you cannot forgive yourself? Is there someone or something that you seem unable to let go of? Do you long for a profound experience of God’s love through forgiveness? Join us for the Service of Reconciliation on Monday of Holy Week, or make an appointment with one of the priests to talk about receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation so that you may experience the peace that God so wants for you.