Tuesday, February 10, 2009

How Long Has It Been Since Your Last Confession?

We use a lot of formulations to teach what repentance is and how it is accomplished. One of the simplest is that we confess and forsake our sins. D&C 58:42-43. The importance of forsaking our sins is a no-brainer, but confession is an interesting idea. What does it mean to confess our sins? Do we need to confess them all? I was pretty impatient and lost my temper this morning with my daughter. Is it really important that I confess that sin? And, how do I do it? Some religious traditions have more formal procedures for confessing sins than we do. Is that good? Bad?

When I was younger, I remember thinking that confession was all about deterrence. I mean, who wants to go through the humiliation of confessing their sins? But, maybe there is something more to it.

In our family, when someone has done something wrong and hurt someone else, we have implemented our own formula for an apology. It follows this basic pattern: The offender has to look the offended party in the eye, and say words to effect of, “Ashley, I am sorry that I pushed you.” This has to be done with sincerity (or at least a convincingly sincere tone).

Each part of this simple little formula is important. Looking the offended in the eye and saying “I am, sorry,” is all about accountability and acknowledging that we have done wrong, regardless of the circumstance (“She started it!”). Expressing sorrow is sort of the point of the whole thing. Identifying or describing the wrongful act reinforces what behavior was wrong and is to be avoided.

Expressing our apologies in this way makes a lot of sense when dealing with family relationships and friendships. But is confessing our sins to God or the Bishop the same thing? Or is it completely different? It's not like we are telling God something He doesn't already know. And beside the deterrent effect, is there a connection between confessing and forsaking sins?

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