“Do you want to come see the confessional booth?” Father Adrian had been such a gracious host. His approachability and love for people dripped from every word as he ushered a class full of wide-eyed ninth graders around the sanctuary of St. Barnabas Catholic Church in the mountains of western North Carolina.
It was a field trip for a theology class I taught, exploring the intersection of architecture and theology. Most of the teens in that class were from Baptist or Presbyterian backgrounds. They had never stepped foot in a Catholic Church, much less been invited into those intimate and mysterious places like the confessional booth.
Confession is at the heart of the Lenten season. For many Protestants, the very mention of the word “confession” brings up the same strange and even prejudicial ideas that my students felt on that day at St. Barnabas. Confession, however, is a thoroughly biblical command and one from which we should not shy away.
Let’s be honest, though. Confession can be scary. There is a reason that we want to keep some things hidden. There is a good reason that we do not go about broadcasting some areas of our lives in public. There is a reason that we would prefer to shield ourselves from scrutiny, even if that means a life of hiding in the dark.
Too often, however, we lock ourselves behind the twin doors of shame and fear. Too often, we isolate ourselves from the very community that God created us to experience because we are afraid to bring those hidden things into the light. Too often, we are afraid of what others may say and how they might react. Too often, we are afraid of what God may say if we are completely honest.
As a result, we walk through life behind masks of social acceptability. We hide our pain and our shame behind the facade of success, morality, and nicety. As a result, we suffer in silence. We cut ourselves off from the community and interdependence for which we were created.
In the first Epistle of John, we find this encouragement regarding confession: “If we claim to have fellowship with God and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. . . If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
At the end of the day, confession isn’t about telling God something that God doesn’t already know. Confession is about agreeing with God about who we really are. Confession is about freeing ourselves from the isolation, shame, and fear that the Devil wants to use to imprison us. Confession is about owning our complicity in systems that oppress and hold others captives. Confession is about stepping out of the shadows and into the light. It’s about owning our new identity in Christ as those who are forgiven, set free, and adopted into God’s family.
So, find someone you can trust this Lent. Choose carefully and cautiously. Confess to them (and to God). Step out of the shadows and into the light of forgiveness.