Confession

This week I have chosen to share a story that I wrote for an online creative writing class that I took this winter. The prompt for this story was that the story needed to involve a confession, and be told in a “stream of consciousness” manner. It was the kind of story that flowed from my fingertips, and it took me a little while to realize how it connected to me. 

I cried when I figured it out.

The pain, the frustration, the weariness of trying to pray- that is what this story came out of. 

And then some of my fellow classmates commented on the story, and said things like, “I understand,” and “I am journeying too.” These things helped (I’m a normal human! Yay!) and these things hurt (I feel guilty for not currently experiencing the JOY that following God is supposed to bring, and guiltier still because certainly it is my own fault that I am not experiencing that joy). I am still pondering these feelings. 

But for now… here is my story. 


 

My forty-five year-old knees hurt. I suppose that I have been kneeling for a long time now. Any second now, I will start to pray. Pray for real, I mean. I’ve had all these false starts.

 

Dear God.

Heavenly Father.

Lord Jesus.

Anyone? Anyone at all?

 

I am a terrible human being.  I don’t know what to do about it, and I have exhausted myself.

 

I don’t know anything about prayer. Never have, and never will, at this rate. What am I doing here? I’m not even a Catholic. Every day on my way home from the hospital, I drive past this church, and in recent weeks, I started to feel the the urge to pull into the parking lot. To open the heavy doors and enter the still, quiet grace. I imagine the grace all trapped inside, swirling over and under pews and colliding with stained glass. That’s why things have been so hard out in the world, I guess.

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For Pete’s sake, I got distracted again.

Focus, Thomas. Focus. Close your eyes. Deep breath.

 

I am tired. I don’t think that I have the strength to do this anymore. I don’t think that I have the strength to stop, either.

 

I try to imagine God being real, being a presence right there in the church with me. Wrapping me up. But all I feel is the stillness working its way into me until my body fairly hums with it. It works its way up my spine until I have to shiver.  Am I being absorbed by the stillness, or am I disrupting it? I can’t tell. I shift uncomfortably, aware of the sound of my joints popping loudly in the silence of the church. It’s not just my mind that is having trouble submitting to prayer. My entire body seems to be resistant to it.

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I know what I came in here to do. Every day, I feel my ugliness winding its way through me, loving me and destroying me.  I’m going to give you a name and a face, I say to it. Maybe I’ll finally be able to get a grip on you and… I don’t know what would come next, but I am worn down from hiding.

 

I look down at the soft and wrinkled pamphlet in my sweaty hands. “How to Make a Good Confession.” I had found it on a table just inside the door. Praying isn’t going so well for me, but I think that I gave it a fair shot. I stiffly rise to my feet and head towards the confessional booth that I noticed on my way in.

 

I sit on the chair by the screen, fumbling as I try to open my pamphlet. I need to see the instructions for how to do this.

 

My throat feels scratchy. I clear it, before whispering (the pamphlet says to whisper), “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.” I hastily try to make the sign of the cross, but I don’t know if I am doing it right. Perhaps God will overlook that.

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There is no response from the other side of the screen, so I determinedly barrel on. The pamphlet said to explain my sin briefly, and include how often I have committed it. “I accuse myself of the following sin. I… I do not love my wife. I do not want to be married to her anymore.” I do not love my wife. My wife who has given me three beautiful children and shared herself with me in every way. My wife who has cancer. My wife who has been in the hospital for the past few weeks. My wife who is unexpectedly recovering rather than dying. It would have been simpler, a more dignified end for everyone,  if….

“I have committed this sin… for several years, now, I guess.” There is no pinpointing when something like this starts. I conclude, “I am sorry for this sin, and all the sins of my whole life.”

 

I wait. The pamphlet says that the priest would give me some prayers as penance, but there is nothing from the other side of the screen. I lean nearer and listen. Not even any breathing.

 

“Hello?” I finally dare to whisper. No response.

 

There’s no one over there. I almost laugh at myself, but my sin is still holding me too close.

 

What am I going to do, God? Is a person even allowed to pray about something like this? Something so selfish? Something that has no right answer?  What am I going to do?

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I stand up to leave. I’ve spent too much time here.

 

As I walk to my car, lost in my guilt, I nearly trip over a good-sized stick that the wind has brought down from a nearby tree. I stop and pick it up, intending to set it on the nearby grass so no other sinners trip on it.

 

Instead, I find myself walking back up the steps to the church with the stick. I open the door, and wedge the stick in, so that it holds the door open just a crack.

 

Maybe now some of that grace will be able to escape.

 

Maybe it will find its way to someone in need of it.

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More

Something wonderful for you to read! Written by Kaylin Steckly, who is a much more consistent, adventurous, lively, dedicated, and self-disciplined writer and reader than I am. She graciously agreed to share some of her wise thoughtfulness with us. Thank you, Kaylin. 🙂 

We all want to fly.

We want to soar above all the things that drag us down, slow us up. We want to be free. Like eagles.

Eagles can fly. Eagles are free. We want to be like eagles. We admire eagles and they’re majestic and so many other things that we want to be. We want to be like them.

But we can’t.

Somehow, we’re always tied to something. School, work, families, our bank accounts, we’re late, whatever. But even with those things, we could still fly. In the center of our hearts, we know we could. All those excuses, that’s just what they are. Excuses.

We could fly.

But we don’t.

Eagles teach their young to fly by pushing them out of the nest. They fall until they learn to fly.

And that’s it. We’re afraid to fall. We’re afraid we’ll fail, that we’ll land instead of fly. We’re afraid it will kill us. We’re afraid to take that step off the solid, the familiar, into emptiness, afraid that the updrafts are really downdrafts, afraid that we won’t be strong enough to fly.

And so we stand, both feet planted firmly on the ground, in the dust, in the mud, and we’re grounded. We’re disappointed. We hate it, we want to fly, and we’re afraid to fall.

We cover up our disappointment by pretending we don’t care about flying. And because everybody covers up their disappointment, everybody is hiding, and everybody is lying to themselves, and to everyone else. And we pretend to enjoy being grounded, and we scare those watching us, and we scare ourselves.

We openly mock those who can fly, and we secretly envy them. Our tongues say, “Look at them, flying. People are meant to have their feet on the ground, not their heads in the clouds.” Our hearts cry, “I want to fly, to soar. I want to be like them.”

But we’re afraid to fall.

But see, the thing with the eagles is that when the mamas push their babies out of the nest, they don’t just turn their backs, and that’s it and the babies fly. They watch. They fly beneath that freefall through time and space, and if the baby isn’t strong enough to fly, mama is.

The baby eagle won’t fall and land and die while the mama eagle flies below. Mother love is too strong for that. Eagles teach their babies to fly by pushing them out, and letting them fall and catching them.

We remember that we have to fall and forget that we will be caught. We forget that we don’t have to fly on our own the first time. We remember that we have to fall, and forget that we have another eagle, so much bigger, so much stronger, so much more protective, flying under us, ready to catch us if we fall. And so we stay in the nest and watch the few who have truly learned to fly. We watch and we long.

That emptiness, that open space, isn’t empty. It’s open, but it isn’t empty.

It’s full of joy, and love, and peace.

Yes, there are downdrafts. And sometimes we’ll land and the landings won’t be smooth and they’ll hurt, but they won’t kill.

But it isn’t empty.

And we never fall alone.

Golden

Everyone uses the word golden

And I don’t want to

But I think

I have to

Because that’s just the way sunshine is.

I see golden light.

Still.

Warm.

Gentle.

I see stones and arches.

I see covered heads

And clean hands

And stained hearts

And beards

And readiness.

I see a visitor.

One familiar

And known

And yet different

And things have been

Said

But he looks so

Safe

And everything in

You

Leans toward

Him.

And I see

Normal begin

But

Something feels

Different

And

It has to be because of

Him.

I see the scroll placed in

His hands

And his mouth opens

And his heart opens

And there is

So

Much

Life.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

The words.

They were meant to be said by him.

He fills them

And shapes them

And owns them

And resurrects them

And plants them so deep.

You’ve read them before. Heard them before.

But his voice

Is golden.

Still.

Warm.

Gentle.

Like sunshine.

The hard things that you keep

Tucked away

Inside

Feel like they want to

Melt.

 

From Luke 4:16-20. A lot can be imagined about four verses. I wish I could have heard Human Jesus’ voice.  I love the thought of Jesus’ voice. As powerful as written words can be, there is something about spoken word that is just captivating. I think Jesus must have been the master of spoken word. Not that he phrased everything artistically and vaguely and profoundly. Just that he did it, you know- perfectly. I think he had the kind of voice that you could listen to forever. Come to think of it… He still does. 

 

Sink or Fail

Written on February 12, 2014

She sits.

The mug is warm and full and fresh. White and foamy and new.

She thinks and she reads and she scribbles.

She pages and highlights and knows.

Be still and know that I am God.

She writes it in her journal, all scrawly and purple and earnest. Takes a sip.

The original Hebrew word for “be still” meant sink.

Sink and know that I am God. She writes this too, still scrawly and purple and earnest, enjoying the depth and layers that you find words wrapped in when you go into their original, literal meaning.

Okay.

She reads on, mug in both hands.

Another definition for this Hebrew word raphah is “fail”.

Fail and know that I am God. She puts the mug down and writes this as well, keeping with her habit of writing down the realizations as they come.

Wait.

Fail and know that I am God?

Really? She writes.

Fail?

Lifts the mug to her lips. Tiny, thoughtless sip. And back down.

Her fingers form the next thought before she has time to stop it.

And there it is.

I hate failing.

Can one know who God is without failing?

Failing.

Sinking.

That feeling in the summer. When you’re swimming. And you let yourself fall back into the water. And it feels good. The water swirls to cover you, and you float in the calm, and it’s cool and quiet and effortless and there’s a moment of complete calm.

But the panic. The need to breathe.

Sinking into God.

That sounds good. Releasing yourself into Him. He swirls and billows around you and you are safe and calm and invincible.

But what about the moment when it stops feeling safe and things don’t feel the way that they are supposed to and it’s wrong and you think you know what you should do and it seems like God is awfully quiet and honestly, these are people you’re dealing with and if you mess up, it will affect them in negative ways and you will be responsible and things are getting out of control and you haven’t prayed like you should and someone asks you a question and you have an answer that sounds pretty good and you have mulled over this problem in your head and you think you have got it figured out and you rush ahead and you deal with it and what you’re doing seems right and good and it is probably what God wanted you to do and why did He not give you a direct answer and you thought that in situations like this the answer would just kind of instinctively come to you and how does one know when they are going on their own ideas or when those ideas are planted by God and………

Fail.

Fail fail fail.

If she doesn’t sink into God, she will fail.

She feels stuck.

Stuck in all those times that she has barged her way through life.

Stuck because she knows what her problems and failures are, but she doesn’t know how to fix them.

Fail and know that I am God.

She has failed. But she so often forgets that God is God.

The thought of all the failing she has yet to do? All the things that she will do wrong? All the ways that she is not sure she is strong enough to change? Doesn’t know how to change?

It kills her.

She sinks to the panicky point. Where she needs to breathe, and she struggles, and can see the sunlight but not reach it.

She leaves her mug on the table- cold, mostly empty, and grey.

And days later, she is curled up on her bed, crying, because she cannot do this anymore. She hates it. She hates wanting to change, but never actually changing. She hates seeing problems, but not solving them. She hates being quiet instead of speaking. She hates not being able to talk to anyone about what she feels because she literally would not know what to say. She hates complaining when there’s not really anything to complain about. She hates that she spends all week with people, and then gets to the weekend and feels like she wants to be alone. She is scared because nothing is really turning out the way she thought it would. This is not what she had planned, and maybe that means it’s wrong. Doesn’t God give dreams and ambitions for a reason? Why is it starting to feel like she will never do the things that she always wanted to do? She hates sleeping instead of writing. She hates being less instead of more. She hates that her life seems to be producing… nothing. She hates feeling awkward. She wonders when and how and why she got so used to not talking. She hates being insecure instead of confident. She hates being jealous rather than content. Jealousy causes so many problems. It is never a good thing. She hates letting people down and being a disappointment. And what is this strange desire to go somewhere else? Like somewhere completely different? She doesn’t care if it’s on plane or in a car or even where it is- she would just like to go somewhere else. She hates always being a thought slower than everyone else. She hates wasting her time. She hates not knowing how to relax without feeling guilty about the work she hasn’t done yet. She hates that it is just all wrong. (Well, not quite everything is wrong.)

All this leads to many, many tears.

Days pass, and she finally reads it.

He led captivity captive.

She can’t be stuck in her sin and selfishness unless she chooses to be.

Because she is held captive by Freedom itself.

Those things that hold her and bind her and destroy her and make her despise herself? They are what is powerless and stuck. Not her.

They have nothing and offer nothing and are nothing when compared to her God.

She knows it.

And yet somehow she still has to learn it.

The Truth is overwhelmingly wonderful and it seems like she will never be able to believe it consistently and without a doubt and that is so discouraging. Rarely does she approach anything in her life with complete confidence, and then there is this one thing that she could be completely confident in, but she feels like she just doesn’t know how.

Will she never learn?

She writes and it feels like her writing has no meaning and she thinks “Okay. What do you want to say? What do you want people to get out of this?” and she can’t even figure that out. So if you feel like there is supposed to be a meaning to all this, she wishes there was. But the truth is, she doesn’t know what this all means and so there really is no concrete, definitive meaning behind it. She was hoping to get to the end and realize that she had subconsciously arrived at (stumbled upon) a satisfying, hopeful conclusion. Unfortunately, it didn’t work that way. She probably won’t even be brave enough to actually publish this post because GASP- then people would know how she felt/feels. And we just can’t have that. Perhaps in a few weeks when she is no longer feeling quite so much this way, it would be okay to share.