Miska and I have a running joke that if I were ever to go completely unhinged and do something stupid like have an affair, I'd manage to keep it under wraps for about 19 seconds. When guilt hits, I go blabbing. When I was in second grade, I went running to my mom, in tears, confessing the evil I'd done. "What happened, Winn?" my mom asked. "I cursed," I answered. "I said upchuck." How my mom held back the laughter, I'll never know.
Recently, Miska, in a strange turn of conversation, was forced to cough up that she had snooped around to find out what gifts I had bought her last Christmas. She logged into my email. She poked around my Amazon account. She didn't happen upon her information; she executed MI5 style tactics. I'm surprised she didn't waterboard the boys to make them talk. I like surprises, so I was irritated by her admission. More, though, I was impressed. Given my psyche, I can't fathom engaging in that chicanery and then just tooling along as if nothing happened.
My confessive compulsion is a bit much. However, the act of confession, of saying the truth about something, is an immense gift. We tend to think of "confessing our sins" as necessary bookkeeping, knocking off a litany of all our inappropriate behavior so that God will then knock these same items off his list of things to smack us for. Confession, I believe, is closer to the moment when I stop playing coy with Miska and admit I really crave her touch. Or when Seth falls flat on the hard ground, spread eagle with his face smashed into pavement — then amid tears and pain makes it plain he wants nothing but his dad to gather him up and hold him tight. Of course, there's nothing I want in that moment more than to rush to his side and pour love over his hurt.
In Scripture, confessing our sins is simply the way of speaking the truth to God so that we can stop living in the far away corner and get on receiving love. Confessing our sins isn't the point. Forgiveness is the point. Love and friendship is the point. Living the good life – that's the thing God's working in all this. Lent is the season of clearing the air, of confessing what is, the season of getting on with the good life.
Confession is about healing that pours into our cracked places, our alone places. Confession is about coming clean with the fact that, left to our lonesome, we are lost – but also owning the fact that we dare to long for much, much more. To confess is to say the truth about ourselves and our place and our desire. Confessing how we've trespassed the commandments is a humbling thing. Confessing how we've abandoned good and true desires — that's a terrifying thing.
Orthodox priests speak this prayer after private confession:
May God who pardoned David through Nathan the prophet when he confessed his sins, and Peter weeping bitterly for his denial, and the sinful woman weeping at his feet, and the publican and the prodigal son, may the same God forgive you all things, through me a sinner, both in this world and in the world to come, and set you uncondemned before his terrible Judgment seat. Having no further care for the sin which you have confessed, depart in peace.
Clear the air. Say it clean. Then depart, without a care. In peace.