I went to confession on Saturday for the first time in two years. I almost walked out again when I saw that the priest was hearing confessions in the open, no confessional or screens. I have anxiety about a lot of things, but my social anxiety has often crippled me in even very enjoyable, positive interactions. It makes confession an agonizing, tearful, stammering, awkward ordeal.
I didn't turn around. Maybe I was tired enough to be a little reckless with myself, tired enough to feel the part of my exhaustion that is the weight of sin and brokenness pulling me down. I came into the church, and sat down and read over the provided examination of conscience, which was big on things like, "have I been active in addressing the injustices of our society" and "how do I show mercy to the world," and light on questions about how I treat individual people. It would be easy, I guess, to despair of "people in general" after reading a newspaper or any internet comment box. I don't always feel inclined to show mercy to the whole world, even if I knew what that meant.
I put the useless examination down, feeling my anxiety increase, and went to the bathroom to get some water. I took an Ativan from the pill case in my purse, and saw a pad of paper--a small notebook. I pulled it and a pen out and returned to my seat, making a list of the actions and words that haunt me with regret and shame.
And when I found myself in front of our new pastor--about to make my first personal impression on him via my sins, another reason for anxiety--I took out the sheets of paper and thrust them into his hands.
"I have an anxiety disorder and this is hard. I don't know if I'll get through all of this."
I thought of our patience with her, the advice the books give to make no fuss over the puddle on the floor but lead the dog away, cleaning up out of her sight and waiting for the next chance to guide her into success. I thought of my children, and how frustrating it is for me when one of them becomes too caught up in frustration over his mistakes to start moving towards remedying them, and how badly I want to guide and comfort rather than punish and discipline, because I love my children and want good for them and from them.
"God doesn't want to hurt you or take things away from you. It can feel like that. But if you spend time with Him in prayer, listening, and watching the way He works around you each day, you'll see He wants to make you whole," the priest told me before giving me absolution.
The next day I stood in the cold with our new puppy, watching her dig around in the snow and feeling the solid ground beneath me, holding me up whether I think about it or not, as I hold up my children, as God holds us all up in existence, and I realized that even this was a gift.