One of the requirements of becoming a pastor in my denomination is completing a unit of CPE (or Clinical Pastoral Education), which is a fancy way of saying "pay to be a volunteer chaplain and have everything you do be picked apart." I did my CPE at Cooper Hospital in Camden, New Jersey, a level one trauma center in one of the poorest cities in America and had a supervisor who didn't cut his students any slack, Rev. Cholke.
It was stressful, it was exciting, and it was one of the best learning experiences of my life.
One day, I was sharing a written report about one of my visits with a patient where I had danced around his concerns about losing his legs. Rev. Cholke was having none of it. He interrupted me, pointed a finger in my face and said, "You're afraid of conflict. You avoid the tough questions and you can't really help people if you do that."
In that moment I was embarrassed, and ashamed, and angry. And I felt those things because he was right. I kind of knew that about myself, but he had stripped my personality naked and put it on display in front of the group. I hated that moment.
It was one of the best things someone has ever done for me.
Because of that moment, I started paying attention to my motivations. I learned to recognize when I was avoiding conflict out of fear. When I did that, I could push my fear back or lean into the stress to build up resilience. Over time, I became a better leader and a better pastor because Rev. Cholke named a problem that I needed to work on.
I was thinking of that moment of being called out for my personal quirk as I was preparing for Lent in recent weeks.
One of the central focuses of Lent is confession and forgiveness. We admit that we have not followed or trusted God as we should and pray for help to do better. Sometimes confession can have a pretty negative connotation, as if God is just laying a guilt trip on us saying, "You're a horrible person." (Of course, that omits the whole "and forgiveness" part of the process...) But I think it can better be understood as a diagnostic tool, like a doctor saying, "You have a malignant grudge that we need to treat or it's going to get worse."
Confession can work like that moment in CPE where I had my fault named out loud, and because it was, I became aware of it, I started noticing when it was a problem, and I could start changing things in myself to make it better. Learning to recognize our faults, our bad tendencies, our poor social habits, and our lack of trust in God (or "sin," for short), makes us aware of them and can help us take steps to change them. After all, we don't fix a problem if we don't know it exists.
If you ever feel beat up by confession, perhaps think of it as an improvement tool. What are the areas I need help in improving? How am I not being the best I can be and how do I need God to help me? Make Lent a season of reflection and growth. That still doesn't make it fun or easy to look at our flaws, but it gets closer to the purpose God has for us. After all, the message at the end of Lent is that Jesus promises resurrection and new life, not destruction and shame.
From the Gray,
“Take away these lies that I tell myself so many times.” -Mike Farris, “Know Good, Know How”