The Power of Vulnerability in Confession
Letter from Sarah Engel
I have been receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation since 1998. Sadly, being vulnerable in this Sacrament and truly making a good confession was something I lacked until I was 27 years old.
When I would go to confession in school, I would say about three generic sins (typically a broken commandment like not honoring my father and mother) and finish with the phrase “for these and all my sins I am truly sorry.” My confessions typically averaged about two minutes. Although this started in grade school, this continued to be how I would make a confession well into my adult life. Even with my minimal confession approach, I would still enter the confessional shaking and terrified of sharing my sins behind the confessional screen. Even though I knew that God’s love for me is unconditional, my pride still got in the way. Even though I knew Jesus died for my sins, I still let vanity get in the way. I was ashamed to share my sins out loud. I was afraid of being judged even though the priest had no idea who was on the other side. I was afraid for someone to think less of me. I knew God loved me and believed this my entire life but I still was compelled to hide when I was in confession. I was truly sorry for my sins but I was ashamed.
I was 27 when I married my husband. My husband knows me better than anyone in this world and he has seen me at my best and at my worst. On my darkest days, when I am not proud of my actions or my choices, my husband’s unconditional love is there.
I realized shortly before our wedding that my husband’s love for me is truly the closest feeling of what God’s love for me must feel like. Instead of just knowing that God’s love for me is unconditional, I started to feel this love because of my husband. The feeling of not being “good enough” is something I have struggled with most of my life. I carried with me the worry, until Brent’s love showed me otherwise. He loves me as I am. I don’t have to change. I don’t have to hide. I don’t have to try to be perfect. He loves me even though I am flawed, just like God does.
My husband and I got married at a Catholic Chapel in Colorado that Pope John Paul the Second had been at in 1993. I asked our priest if we could offer confessions the night of our wedding rehearsal. We were only allowed in the chapel for a small amount of time and he said we can do confessions back at the ranch that we were all staying at. I agreed with a smile on my face but I felt sick because I didn’t do face to face confessions. They are very intimidating to me (even more so with our priest who was a family friend that was marrying us the next day). This confession was going to be personal and I wouldn’t be able to hide. I snuck away for some time alone during our rehearsal dinner for an examination of conscience and prayer. I looked down upon our family, friends, and my soon to be husband gathering on the evening before our wedding. I felt an overwhelming sense of being unworthy of all of this. I sat in the beauty of the mountains and reflected upon my sins and all of my blessings that God has granted me. I told my priest that I was ready for confession. I wasn’t sure what this was going to be like because I’ve never done confession outside of a church and he said, let’s walk. I began my confession as we were walking amongst the trees in the mountains with the stars above us. For the first time in my life, I was truly honest and vulnerable in confession. I was in tears during this sacrament because I let go of my pride and shared honestly all that I was struggling with. It was the most powerful confession I have ever had. This moment is one that is hard for me to describe. My priest responded personally to my sins, offered guidance, and prayer. He gave me a penance that both my husband and I treasure, he asked me to write a prayer for my marriage.
The confession the night before our wedding marked a changed how I enter the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Seeing God's love for me through Brent's love helped me have the best confession of my life. I was vulnerable, transparent, and honest because Brent’s love had showed me it was okay. God wants us to come to Him just as we are. His love is waiting amidst all of our imperfections. God’s unconditional love is not dependent upon who we are. It is who God is. His love is greater than I can imagine which is exactly what I have learned from my husband. Because of Brent’s unconditional love for me, I was able to experience of God’s love for me in confession in a whole new way.
I learned that the more honest I am in the confessional the more of a personal experience I’ll have. Being honest and vulnerable with God showed me that His love is always greater than our failures. I let the devil tempt me with pride and vanity for too long. It’s okay to be sorrowful for your sins. I no longer want to hide from God. Our Father knows all of our sins, He knows every part of us, and loves us anyway. All we have to do is be honest with Him and we can experience His full forgiveness. I am so grateful that I was able to experience how fulfilling it is to be truly vulnerable in this Sacrament and make a good confession. If you fully open up to Him, you will end up closer to Him.
“We are not the sum of our weakness and failures. We are the sum of the Father’s love for us.” –Saint Pope John Paul II
Friends, be not afraid. God is SO good!
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About the Writer: Sarah Engel
Sarah is a Kansas girl at heart that lives in Northwest, Arkansas. She is happily married to her best friend, Brent. Sarah is a school counselor who loves to make kids smile. In her free time, you can find her hiking outside with her husband, spending time with her family and friends back in Kansas, or cuddling with her cat Milo.