Lent: Help us Find Our Confession

Guidance on using the lectionary.
Lectionary readings for March 6, 2016: Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32


God, help us find our confession;
The truth within us which is hidden from our mind;
The beauty or ugliness we see elsewhere
But never in ourselves;
The stowaway which has been smuggled
Into the dark side of the heart,
Lead us into the darkness that we may find what lies concealed;
That we may confess it towards the light.

– Michael Leunig


If confession is good for the soul, why is it so hard? Well, aside from the obvious (that confession requires real humility and many of us just aren’t willing to humble ourselves), knowing what to confess and how to confess it in a way that is truly transformative can be very challenging.  This is the place where we really need God to guide the process.

How do we find and make our confessions in a way that actually heals us and our world?

One practice that is helping me “find my confession” is to engage the written prayers of the church, but rather than only praying them quickly in corporate settings, to find ways to make them more personal. To actually pause at each confession to allow the Holy Spirit to bring to mind people and moments and situations where my sins and negative patterns need to be brought to light. To pray these great prayers of the Church and really mean them.

A Leader’s Practice of Confession

As leaders it is easy to be so focused on how we are guiding others through the prayers and practices of the Lenten season that we neglect the rigors of our own Lenten practice. This is a serious temptation. 

As a way of bringing us back to our own practice, I offer you a prayer I entered into on Ash Wednesday and have been praying slowly and as often as possible ever since.  It is adapted here to make it more personal and also a little more focused on the nuances of leadership. It takes about a half an hour to pray all the way through if you leave space between each of the categories to see what God brings to mind and then take time to actually “confess it to the light.”

I have yet to get through the whole thing in one sitting because God always stops me with real situations in my own life that require me to take time to ponder and acknowledge my sin. I wept all the way through this litany on Ash Wednesday. At the time I wasn’t even sure why except that it touched such a deep desire to practice repentance and confession in a way that makes a difference—like it did for the prodigal son in our Gospel reading this week.

The story of the prodigal son teaches us that confession has to do with coming to our senses about how we have turned away from the Source of true love, how we have squandered the gifts of that love, how far we have drifted from our true home and our true selves. Indeed, true repentance and confession bring us home. To ourselves.  To God. To the life we were meant for. What a picture of the difference true repentance and confession can really make!

No wonder we weep. We all want to come home. 

*  *  *  *  *

Most holy and merciful God, I confess that I have sinned by my own fault in thought, word and deed; by what I have done and by what I have left undone.  With the help of your Holy Spirit, help me to find my confession.  [Pause in silent preparation]

I have not loved you with my whole heart, and mind, and strength.  I have not loved my neighbor as myself.  I have not forgiven others, as I have been forgiven.  [Pause]
Have mercy on me, Lord.

I have been deaf to your call to serve, especially in moments when it has been hard or inconvenient, even though Christ has served me and given his life for me.  In such moments, I have not been true to the mind of Christ. I have grieved the Holy Spirit. [Pause]
Have mercy on me, Lord. 

I confess to you my past unfaithfulness—the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of my life—while all the while pretending to be humble, honest, and patient. [Pause]
I confess to you, Lord.

I confess my self-indulgent appetites and ways, and my exploitation of other people for my own ego-driven plans.   [Pause]
I confess to you, Lord.

I confess my anger and frustration at the limits of my own situation, and my envy of those who seem to be more fortunate, more gifted, more resourced than I. [Pause]
I confess to you, Lord.

I confess my attachment to worldly goods and my own personal comfort, and my subtle dishonesty in daily life and work.  [Pause]
I confess to you, Lord.

I confess my negligence in my own personal prayer and worship even while I am attempting to lead others, and my failure to live out the faith that is in me.  [Pause]
I confess to you, Lord.

Accept my repentance, Lord, for the wrongs I have done: for my blindness to human need and suffering, my indifference to injustice and cruelty, and my cowardice in refusing to use my voice on behalf of others.  [Pause]
Accept my repentance, Lord.

Forgive me for my false judgments, uncharitable thoughts toward those with whom I work and to whom I minister, and for my prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from me. [Pause]
Accept my repentance, Lord.

Forgive me for my waste and pollution of your creation, and lack of concern for those who come after me.  [Pause]
Accept my repentance, Lord.

Restore me, good Lord; accomplish in me the work of your salvation,
That I may show forth your glory in the world.

By the cross and passion of your son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
Favorably hear me, for your mercy is great, and bring me with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.

AMEN.


©Ruth Haley Barton. 2015. Not to be reproduced without permission. 

Transforming Resources for a meaningful Lent

Ruth Haley Barton

(Doctor of Divinity, Northern Seminary) is Founder and Chief Essence Officer of the Transforming Center. A teacher, seasoned spiritual director (Shalem Institute), and retreat leader, she is the author of numerous books and resources on the spiritual life including Life Together in Christ, Pursuing God’s Will Together, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Sacred Rhythms, and Invitation to Solitude and Silence.

8 Comments

  1. David on March 6, 2016 at 11:47 am

    Ms. Barton,

    Thank You for this wonderful message. Below are the passages that spoke the most to me. I actually was able to call to mind at least one thing from each of them.

    I will be using this in my morning devotional, as I believe it will allow God to open my heart and release the darkness within, for no darkness can reside where God shines his light.

    Begin Quote”
    I confess to you my past unfaithfulness—the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of my life—while all the while pretending to be humble, honest, and patient. [Pause]
    I confess to you, Lord.

    I confess my self-indulgent appetites and ways, and my exploitation of other people for my own ego-driven plans. [Pause]
    I confess to you, Lord.

    I confess my anger and frustration at the limits of my own situation, and my envy of those who seem to be more fortunate, more gifted, more resourced than I. [Pause]
    I confess to you, Lord.

    I confess my attachment to worldly goods and my own personal comfort, and my subtle dishonesty in daily life and work. [Pause]
    I confess to you, Lord.

    I confess my negligence in my own personal prayer and worship even while I am attempting to lead others, and my failure to live out the faith that is in me. [Pause]
    I confess to you, Lord.
    End Quote”

    • Ruth Barton on March 9, 2016 at 9:56 am

      Amen. I join you in these prayers.

  2. Diane Lawrence on March 2, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    Thank you for this prayer of confession. May I make a few copies with the source noted for our Good Friday prayer stations?

  3. Russell Bartlett on March 1, 2016 at 5:50 pm

    A very powerful piece.
    Do I have/need permission to share this piece in my pastors’ network (source acknowledged, of course)?

    • Jeffery James on March 2, 2016 at 9:34 am

      Russell thanks for asking. Yes you have permission to share. The best way is to use the share buttons on the page as it will link directly back to the site.

      • Ruth Barton on March 9, 2016 at 9:57 am

        I trust this will be a blessing as you pray these prayers together–a very brave thing to do!



  4. Jim Filipiak on March 1, 2016 at 7:34 am

    Thank you X 1000.
    I especially appreciate your focus on our souls, the hidden part, but also the absolute center of our being.

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