Monday, November 28, 2011

Confession in context -- why we make confession

I was reading someone who wondered why people were not out there confessing minor sins to their bishops and keeping anything significant to themselves.  It occurred to me that they really needed a significantly better understanding of confession, the LDS Church and life.

Then I thought of this quote, from a 12-step program on step 5 (step 5 is:  Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs).

This is perhaps difficult, especially discussing our defects with another person. We think we have done well enough in admitting these things to ourselves. There is doubt about that. In actual practice, we usually find a solitary self-appraisal insufficient. Many of us thought it necessary to go much further. We will be more reconciled to discussing ourselves with another person when we see good reasons why we should do so. The best reason first: If we skip this vital step, we may not overcome drinking. Time after time newcomers have tried to keep to themselves certain facts about their lives. Trying to avoid this humbling experience, they have turned to easier methods. Almost invariably they got drunk. Having persevered with the rest of the program, they wondered why they fell. We think the reason is that they never completed their housecleaning. They took inventory all right, but hung on to some of the worst items in stock. They only thought they had lost their egoism and fear; they only thought they had humbled themselves. But they had not learned enough of humility, fearlessness and honesty, in the sense we find it necessary, until they told someone else all their life story. -A.A. Big Book p.72-73


Having taken my personal inventory in step 4, I am now ready to share that inventory. I share it with my God, with myself and with another human being. This allows my history to become more real with me. It begins to become in my mind what it truly is, namely "my history". By sharing it with another person, I begin to pull down the fake truths of my life - the facades and the games - and I begin to be who I truly am and build my life with others on the basis of honesty and truth.
- From


Some people seek an easier and softer way by doing a "general confession" to God alone. They are not about to name specifically the humiliating, "awful" thinks they have done out loud before another human being. But this act of specifically confessing things is what often leads to serenity. The more afraid you are to tell about a certain act or thought in your Fifth Step, the more likely it is that confessing that particular thing will put a new crack in your denial and free you in a new area. There doesn't seem to be an easier, softer way, and people who seek one apparently don't understand the tenacious and tricky nature of this spiritual disease we are facing. Step Five is to help us see, to grasp, to understand specifically how the disease has permeated our lives in ways we usually cannot see any other way.
- A Hunger for Healing, p. 91-92


The Fifth Step is the key to freedom. It allows us to live clean in the here and now. Sharing the exact nature of our wrongs sets us free to live. After taking a thorough Fourth Step, we have to deal with what we have found in our inventory. We are told that if we keep these defects inside us, they will lead us back to using. Holding on to our past would eventually sicken us and keep us from taking part in this new way of life. If we are not honest when we take a Fifth Step, we will have the same negative results that dishonesty brought us in the past.
- Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, Chapter 4/Step 5


This may be one of the most challenging steps we face in our recovery process, but it can also be one of the most fulfilling in terms of removing us from our isolation. In order to accomplish Step 5, the three-part sharing it endorses must take place. That is, all of what we discovered about ourselves in our Step 4 inventory is to be freely admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being.
 - Serenity, A Companion for Twelve Step Recovery, p. 45,46


The purpose of confession is to help us heal, to help us find freedom.  It does not exist to clutter up lives (or why Brigham Young wrote and preached a good deal on how minor confessions ought not to be heaped on church leaders -- those only increase our burden and theirs -- and how confession and repentance involves us leaving those things in the past, leaving them behind).

There is a lot of value in understanding confession, and in admitting to ourselves, to God and to another human being the exact nature of where we went wrong.

1 comment:

Papa D said...

This is a timely post, Stephen, as I recently have had a rather long and frustrating discussion with someone about a related topic.

rant/ - Bishops are not supposed to be investigators, digging into and trying to uncover possible things for members to confess. If someone is not sure whether or not they have sinned, a Bishop's job is not to inquire about every possible way the person might have sinned; it is to facilitate teaching in a way that allows people to understand the "law" or "standard" for themselves and decide on their own if there is anything they need to confess. When it comes to this aspect of their calling, Bishops are supposed to offer counsel, hear real confessions, make judgments and help administer healing; everything else, as you say, is just time sucking and unnecessary. /rant