I have a confession to make. The clutter on my nightstand is taking over my life.
When I make a purchase I save the receipt and enter it into an app that keeps track of my spending. Then I compare each entry to my bank statement to make sure my bank account is balanced.
I try to do this as I make each purchase, but it’s easy to procrastinate. At the end of most days I have a few receipts in my pocket. I toss these onto my nightstand and promise myself I will enter them later. The next day, I do the same.
There is currently a huge pile of receipts overflowing my nightstand. They cover the entire surface and are spilling onto the floor. Every time I think about grabbing the pile to reconcile them, the scope of the task overwhelms me. I put if off until later, and the pile grows larger still.
There’s another task I’ve put off. I haven’t been to confession in quite a while.
Confession and cleaning house
I had lunch with my priest several weeks back. He reminded me that it had been some time since I had last confessed. With downward cast eyes I told him that I would soon. But weeks have gone by since then, and my sins continue to pile up like those receipts.
Admission of my sins is a daunting task, and confession lays bare the distance I have placed between myself and God. It’s so much easier to wait one more week than to go before God with my failures.
Even today, as I prepared for confession, the weight of my deeds gave me thoughts of skipping Vespers for more pressing concerns. Like balancing my checkbook.
To pass some of the time before church, I decided to finally tackle those receipts. One by one, I slowly uncrumpled the slips of paper, entering the expenses and recalling each purchase. The frivolity with which I sometimes spend money was apparent, and my budget reflected that fact.
But as I added each expense to my ledger, the pile grew smaller. Each wasteful expense was no longer a present burden, but a past mistake. I noted each one, then discarded the receipt.
When I was done, the pile of receipts was discarded and my nightstand was clear. Of course there would be new receipts to take their place. But I always had the opportunity to clear them more often.
On my drive to church I reflected on this task. Confession is like a clearing of the trash. Under the guidance of a priest, the Orthodox Christian acknowledges their sins like I acknowledged each wasteful expense. As I drew closer to the church, I began to see my impending confession not as a reckoning, but as a return to a state of cleanliness.
The priest may offer guidance and counsel as part of confession. This is to help us and encourage us to choose not to sin. It may also help us see the underlying condition or attitude that leads to our sin. Confessing in the presence of a priest gives us accountability, and helps us avoid acting as our own physician.
In the end we are given absolution by God through our priest. Our slate is wiped clean. This acknowledgement that God heals and forgives us is critical. It helps us understand that we are children of God, not defendants. It puts us back on a path toward Him, with our mistakes cast aside like so many faded slips of paper.
When I finally left the church and headed to my car, I had one more slip of paper to discard.
I took out the list of sins I had written down. When I wrote the list I wanted to remember them all, so that I could properly confess and hold nothing back. Now there was no need to remember the sins, and I crumpled the paper. I would discard it and think on them no more.
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