Monday, July 13, 2009

Utter Dependence

I found myself in an unexpected situation last week: kneeling in front a pastor’s personal altar, receiving private confession and absolution. I grew up in a nice open-minded Christian denomination with no sacraments and moderate respect for ritual. I love that church. It nurtured my faith in Christ and is an important part of who I am. I became Lutheran when I married my husband, and muddled through at the seminary trying to figure out what was going on.

In the last several months I have felt profoundly sinned against and have become quite angry and resentful about it. That is definitely an interpersonal issue – how to cope with unrelenting assaults and not collapse? – but I finally realized it’s also a spiritual issue. I asked a pastor outside our congregation to advise me. I told him I’ve been struggling with needing to forgive those who’ve sinned against me, and have felt burdened by a keener awareness of my own sinfulness.

We talked about God’s intention for me and my family, about how I might develop a forgiving attitude toward the church leaders who’ve hurt us, trusting God to work through this situation and leaving justice to Him. Then he offered me the opportunity to confess any particularly burdensome sins and receive Christ’s absolution using the formal rite of individual confession.

I told my (Lutheran) girlfriend about it later and she nearly screamed, “What are you Catholic now?”

It sounded promising, but how incredibly awkward. Who wants to enumerate their most shameful failings aloud anywhere, much less in front of another person?

Blessedly, the pastor was very gracious, kind, and sincere about it all. He even showed me the order of confession and absolution from the hymnal and talked me through it before we began. We knelt, he lit candles on an altar with a crucifix and several icons.

Kneeling there, speaking the general written confession aloud, and then having the freedom (freedom?!) to name my burdens was powerful. The pastor offered relevant admonition and reassurance from scripture, and then forgave me by the power of Christ. I am not much given to crying, but I did then. I believe that God forgives me, but the specificity and directness of that ritual was like handing over a load of bricks.

That moment comes often to my mind now, reassuring me that God has forgiven me and keeping me in mind of the desire to do better. In the course of our conversation, the pastor used the phrase “utter dependence on God.” That is a condition I have only recently come to understand as desirable, and for a moment, before that altar, I had a taste of it.


  1. Thank you for writing and sharing your story. I'm an LCMS pastor, and will share your blog with my wife. I know she'll appreciate knowing that there are others with similar struggles. +++ The LORD bless you +++

  2. Thank you for posting this! I am a Vicar's wife and, well, needless to say, I am not sure what kind of pastor's wife I am going to be. I'm terrified! Thanks again! I have bookmarked this page so I can come back to it.

  3. Christopher - thank you for your encouragement.
    stbpw2010 - My first inclination is to tell you not to be terrified. But that would make me sound seriously crazy, wouldn't it? Kleinig suggests that God uses worry to move us to pray; maybe terror accomplishes the same thing. I appreciate you are reading, and I hope you'll keep sharing your thoughts. -- mp

  4. I am so glad you took advantage of the rite of individual confession and absolution. My husband has offered this to our congregation since we've been here and not many have taken advantage. Like you, I was not raised Lutheran and while I have become "very Lutheran" in the last seven years, I have not yet brought myself to do this.

  5. I felt the same way when I went to private C & A with another pastor. I cried...sobbed my way through the whole thing...felt like I was a horrible sinner letting it all out...I did not jump up and feel like all was just swell when it was over. I left and didn't even thank the Pastor. I thought that I felt worse than I did going in. I let the Gospel work and overtime I really did feel much better. I knew that I wasn't putting my trust or my sins in the hands of a man but through the pastor my sins where relieved and forgiven and the Gospel was given to me and for me. That was powerful.


Thanks for using this space to share your encouraging words.