It is said that confession is good or the soul, but how many of us actually take this to heart? Unless we come from a religious tradition that makes confession a liturgical necessity this discipline too often get's pushed to the side. Even then, confession can become a dry and lifeless liturgical hoop to go through. We make our confession without any real desire for spiritual or moral change. Similar is the case of corporate confession. The moment when congregation says together 'we confess our sins to Almighty God . .' simply becomes nothing more than a prayer we rattle off giving no thoughts to matters such as repentance or the amendment of life. In each case true confession is fundamentally rejected.
From where did we get the curious notion that the call to confession was somehow contrary to the love and grace of God? Why is it that we see confession as an exercise akin to guilt-mongering instead of one that ushers in spiritual freedom and closeness with Christ?
When we refuse to confess our sins to God, we choose to keep parts of ourselves hidden. We mask the state of our heart and souls, and we thus we live in a self-deceiving lie. It is not that we are hiding these things from God, but we fail to engage ourselves in true and humble honesty. We put up a front. Instead of engaging those deep places of our soul, the longings, the hurts, the wounds, the sins, we plaster them over with a schtick of 'I'm Ok, You're Ok.' All the while, internally, we are crying for a depth of spiritual freedom that somehow, amid our best efforts, remains forever elusive.
How can we find the freedom that we so desperately crave if we do not seek in the fullness of who we are?
Confession is good for the soul precisely because it frees it from the toxic self-deception and festering negative forces that can too often eat away at us. Just listen to David: "For when I kept silent my bones wasted away through my groaning all the day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer." (Psalm 32:3-4) Living self-deception exhausts us. It drains our spiritual livelihood. Slowly, the reality of our Lord's love and mercy becomes replaced by things such as fear, guilt, and shame. Our spirits are left feeling wasted and dried up.
Confession can be hard and challenging, but ultimately God leads us into so that we can be free from the sins, hurts, and wrongs that shackle our spiritual lives. This is why God's hand is sometimes 'heavy upon us', not because God delights in seeing us writhe in guilt-ridden agony, but because God desperately wants us to the experience the full force of liberating love. After uncovering how the silence about his true spiritual condition is inwardly destructive, David continues: 'Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not cover my iniquity; I said "I will confess my transgressions to The Lord," and you forgave the iniquity of my sin' (vs. 5).
Confession is important for a life of simplicity because it causes us to look at our spiritual life as it truly is. After all, how can we live a life of single-hearted focus on God if we are not honest about our struggles or needs. We cannot have a singleness of heart and hold onto spiritual duplicity. If we deny the struggles of faith, or the frailty of our lived-out relationship with God, we only deceive ourselves and the truth - the truth of God's full redemption, the truth of who we are before our Lord - is not in us. Confession does not make God love us, God loves us in every instance and moment, but confession does produce an inner vulnerability that opens us to divine love unhindered by all that we try to hide.
There are several ways that we can incorporate confession into our spiritual lives. Confession is really is not that hard. All it takes is a humble honesty about ourselves. You may choose to obtain a 'confessor,' someone whom you will be honest with, and whom you will accept their words of absolution as divine truth. This person doesn't have to be a pastor or priest, but it is helpful if they are. Confessing to someone can be difficult and scary, and you will want to pray about the person you choose as a confessor. Such a relationship must be mutually established and agreed upon. This is why a priest or pastor is a good option, for they will already be accustomed to things such as accountability, confidentiality, and prayerfulness.
Of course, you don't have to confess to another human individual. We can confess directly to our Lord. In many ways this is a 'safer option', but therein lies the challenge. We must work hard at full disclosure. A good suggestion would be to write your confession down on paper. There is something deeply moving about writing down 'I judged x' or 'I yelled at y'. Somehow, seeing it written down helps us understand the reality of these things in our lives. Once you have written down all that you choose to confess, sit with that reality. Don't rush past this too quickly. Experience the discomfort, the sorrow, the desire for forgiveness. Pray a simple, uncomplicated prayer, one that asks God forgive you of these matters. After a certain amount of time you may experience these sins slowly melt away. In manners which are unique to you, you will feel the truth of forgiveness. When this happens, it is good to write 'Forgiven' over everything you wrote. Again, there is something about seeing the word 'Forgiven' stamped over your particular sins that helps us understand the reality of the freedom and redemption that you have been lead into.
Confession, ultimately, is not about our sins. It is about the love of God and God's desire to forgive. In confession, this is what we are left with - and this is the experience that surrounds this discipline.