By Vanessa Rasanen
That drive to church might have been the hardest I had ever made — and I’ve made plenty of white-knuckled, stress-filled, holy-moly-please-be-quiet-or-I’m-going-to-lose-it Sunday morning drives with my four littles. That particular weekday afternoon, though, I was headed to our near-empty church to meet with my pastor in the sanctuary for private confession and absolution.
While I’ve often encouraged friends to seek this out for themselves, and I have openly confessed this pastoral service to be a blessed gift, truth is I was downright scared to do it myself. I had actually been considering making it a regular practice. After all, there’s no reason you need to have some major sin weighing you down to receive the benefits, but I — with the help of that old Adam, I’m sure — kept setting it aside for “someday”.
That someday had come, and yes, it was due to a rather hefty transgression that was crushing me. With the support of my husband, I set the appointment, knowing it was good for me, yet, I kept having that doubt that it wouldn’t really help.
I knew my sin was forgiven. I believed it. I read it in God’s Word. I remembered my baptism. I knew, but there was that niggling, obnoxious bit of doubt plaguing me, saying “how can you be forgiven? what you did was awful, you broke this, this, this, and this commandment… and probably this one too… that forgiveness isn’t yours…” Funny thing about that doubt. Even when you know it’s false, it does this nasty job of poking tiny holes just big enough that any comfort you might have in your believing that forgiveness slips away leaving you wanting.
So, before I left my house I texted a friend…
“Will it really help? Will I feel better?”
In a word, she replied.
I wanted to believe her. I really really really wanted to believe her, but my skepticism held on. Still, I had her and my husband and my pastor holding me accountable, so I couldn’t duck out at the last minute. I pulled up, prayed (I think? Okay, honestly, I don’t know if I prayed. I want to say I prayed, but that could be a lie. I might have just sat in my car staring blankly at the building, hoping God knew what words I should have been praying… or I was just relying on the prayers of friends who knew where I was and what I needed). Regardless. I stepped inside, wondering how awkward it would be since we are also close friends with our pastors.
It wasn’t. Not awkward in the slightest.
There was my pastor — my friend, yes, but my pastor mainly — waiting for me patiently. He led me into the sanctuary and asked if I had done private confession before. When I said no, he opened the service book to the proper order and showed me how it would go and what to expect. While he went to get vested, I read it over and then knelt at the chancel when ready. With just the two of us there at the railing, we spoke the words. And when it was time I confessed my sin in my own tear-soaked words.
Yes, it sucked to hear myself give that evil a voice, to push the words out and let them hang in the air for my pastor to hear. But it also felt freeing to say them, to not try to hide them. The whole world doesn’t need to know them, but to hand them over to my pastor and to Christ, and say “Please, take this for me, because I can’t hold it anymore!” was more freeing than I expected.
And then the better part — the best part — came. By Christ’s command and in His stead, my pastor took those sins and forgave them. There was no one else in the room those words of absolution could have been for. His hand was on MY head as he spoke the words of forgiveness into MY ears.
What a blessed comfort it was, impossible to describe, and I’m probably failing miserably here, so thank you for bearing with me.
Thing is, I don’t like to point to feelings much. With how emotional the broader evangelical church can get with mystic notions of God speaking to them through their feelings… it’s just something I shy away from discussing. Yet the change I experienced following that private absolution was unexpected and incredible. I went from literally feeling crushed by shame and guilt, crying and sobbing into my husband’s shoulder all night long to feeling free. No more guilt. No more shame. Yes, I still feel sorry for what I did. I still need to face earthly consequences for my transgression, which I am dreading with wracked nerves galore.
But all those tiny holes the doubt had poked were now filled with Christ’s undeniable forgiveness for me. The devil could no longer nag me to say the words I heard weren’t for my ears or the words I read were for everyone but me. With my confession and those words of absolution spoken to me and me alone by the man God has placed to care for my soul, Christ told the devil to get behind me, to leave me be.
The comfort in that is beyond my comprehension, as expected, I suppose:
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7 (ESV)
If you’re on the fence as I was, thinking “sure, someday, I’ll get around to that”, don’t wait for you to be ugly crying three nights in a row over a major screw-up to drag yourself to that railing. Our Lord calls us to bring our burdens to Him, to receive His word of forgiveness. It’s for our good. It’s for our comfort. It’s for the well-being of our faith and our souls. And if you’re at that deep-sobbing point, face-down, and struggling to breathe? Run. Run to the altar, to your pastor, to Christ’s words of forgiveness for you. You won’t regret it, I’m sure.