It’s everyone’s favorite thing to do right? Wait in line? Eh, probably not so much. Most lines in life aren’t terribly exciting. You wait in line at the grocery store. Sure you might be excited about what you’re purchasing, but you still have to “swipe your card and follow the instructions on the pinpad” as John kept reminding me at Target this morning. You have to wait in line at the doctor’s office. Even if you aren’t physically standing in a line, you’re there because you or someone close to you is sick. We wait in lines for trains, at the post office, and for our turn at the copy machine.. There are some fun lines in life. For instance, the line for a roller coaster or other amusement park ride. Of course, often those lines are so long that by the time you get to the ride in question you are wondering whether the past 45 minutes is worth your next 2 minutes of thrill.
Some lines are easy to wait in because we wait in them all the time. Waiting at a checkout counter usually doesn’t make or break our day, and if we have to there is usually another line we can switch to that is moving faster. Waiting in line at a left turn can be annoying, but you know that you will get a turn eventually.
There is one kind of line in particular I’d like to focus on. It’s one that many of us do not frequent, perhaps only once a year. Personally, sometimes the line itself is more intimidating that the event I’m waiting for.
The line for the confessional.
We have a great program on base that provides free childcare one Saturday a month for families whose sponsor (aka the military member) is deployed. This past Saturday I took advantage of this service for the first time. After getting my hair cut and doing some Easter shopping I looked at my watch and realized I couldn’t put it off any longer. If I was going to get to confession this Lent, by myself, I had to go now.
I have to admit, I’m not great about getting to confession. Which means I should be going more, a lot more. I once heard a priest say that someone who believes they don’t need to go to confession is the person who needs to go the most because they aren’t being honest with themselves or God about their life, their sins and their relationship with God. I’ll just quietly raise my hand now and own up to the fact that I’m one of these. After this Saturday experience though I hope to become a “regular” confessor.
There I was, waiting in line for confession. It was a Saturday, the typical Catholic time for confessions. And since it is presently Lent, there is a greater emphasis on this sacrament in particular so the lines are usually longer. When I got to the church there were at least 7 people in front of me and very soon at least another 7 behind me. I had some time on my hands.
What does one think about in the confession line? I don’t know about you, but I found myself rehearsing what I was going to say to the priest. Rehearsing! As if somehow if I could more eloquently tell him my sins, maybe……? What? God would forgive me more, better, more completely? Absurd. God does not forgive us because we are well spoken or use carefully crafted logic for why we committed our sins. He forgives us when we have a contrite heart, when we humble ourselves to seek His mercy and His love.
Let’s think for a moment about the parable Jesus told about the pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). A pharisee and a tax collector went to the temple to pray. The pharisee prayed loudly and pompously, exalting in his status as a religious leader and looking down upon common “sinners” so unlike himself. In contrast, the tax collector lowers his head and simply says “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
Though I was being honest with myself and God about my sins, I was still wrapped up in my pride. Rather than approaching my confession focusing on my sorrow for my sins, I was thinking about how to best present myself to the priest. Again, it’s not like there are bonus points awarded for using a four syllable word or complex sentence structure. There are no grades, no rankings. The priest is not comparing my confession to the person who came before me or who would come after me and neither is God.
And I think this gets at the heart of why people avoid confession. It’s not about not wanting to tell God our sins. One of the most common reasons why people don’t go is because “it’s between God and me right? I just tell God I’m sorry and I’m good.” It’s about what we think the priest will think about us. And that’s totally missing the point. Not only that, now we are adding sins to our already existing list. We are guilty of pride, vanity, and concern for our public image. Yikes!
I knew while I waited in line that when I received the sacrament I would be fully forgiven by God and it feels so wonderful! I also knew I would receive grace to help me stand up to any temptations to commit those sins again. What I didn’t know was how insightful and grace-filled waiting in that line would be.
What lines are you waiting in? What graces might be waiting for you while you wait?