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On Forgiveness

confession forgiveness Feb 25, 2023


Although I don’t belong to a religious denomination that requires a special ritual for confession, such as visiting a priest behind a curtain and receiving an assignment for penance, I know I feel healthier when I bear my soul to God, and to others as appropriate. Sometimes I wish my church did demand that I routinely spill my guts to a designated human being and take my punishment like a woman. (My husband tells me he once went to confession during college, and as he was reeling off the list of his most recent indiscretions, the priest said, “Slow down, my son. Slow down.”)

Would the discipline of saying aloud, “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned” on a regular basis hold me accountable? Make me less prone to impatience? Cause me to lead a purer life? I don’t know. I do know, however, when I offer up to a friend, or a family member, “I’m sorry,” or even “There’s something I need to let you know,” I feel better. Not right then, perhaps, but soon enough.

“Apologies are the art of spiritual housekeeping,” says writer Julia Cameron in Some People Say…God Is No Laughing Matter: An Artist’s Observations and Objections on the Spiritual Path (Tarcher/Putnam, 2000). “They help to put and keep our lives in order. And yet an apology is not so simple as ‘I’m sorry.’ It involves the future as well as the past. ‘I’m sorry for what I did, and I’ll never do it again.’ Where appropriate, it also involves the present: ‘Here is how I intend to make it up to you.’

“Sometimes, the best preparation for spiritual housecleaning is a bit of physical housecleaning. Choose a messy area of your life, an area where you have delayed rehabilitation. … Pick something that you can put in order. Do exactly that while contemplating the spiritual one. It works like this: ‘I’m going to scrub and paper the shelves of the kitchen cabinets. Then I’m going to call Jane and tell her how much I miss our friendship and how sorry I am that I gossiped about her.’ The self-worth that comes from the physical action helps us to execute the spiritual action.”

How do you prepare to ask for forgiveness?

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