How I Overcame My Fear of the Confessional

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How I Overcame My Fear of the Confessional


Before my recent re-conversion, if anyone had asked me how I felt about the sacrament of Reconciliation, I would have had an immediate negative response and probably a snarky comment about how confession was an outdated tool of the patriarchy. If someone had told me a year ago that in 2015 I would be happily and freely going to confession at least once a month, I would have laughed at how impossibly ridiculous that thought was. But God changes our hearts in unexpected ways.

It wasn’t that I ever had a bad experience in confession. It was more that every time I went it felt forced and awkward.

There were only two reasons I went to confession from the time of my Confirmation to the end of high school. In elementary school I begrudgingly gave my confession to the parish priest because my teacher told the entire class that we had to go. And in high school, I awkwardly confessed my sins once a year in a make-shift library confessional alongside my classmates, and we were only separated by cardboard presentation boards. My main issue was that confession always felt superficial and more like something I had to do, and definitely not something I wanted to do.

My issues with confession came to a crossroads in my first semester of graduate school last year when I signed up for a faith study with my best friend. The faith study was one hour a week for six weeks and intended as a basic overview and introduction to the four point Gospel message. Each week had a different theme, with a Bible verse to memorize and a weekly challenge. At the start of each meeting, everyone in the group would talk about how the previous week’s challenge went. Being an eager type-A personality, after the first week I skimmed ahead in my faith study booklet to see what the challenge for each week would be. I mostly wanted to see what I was getting myself into. When I looked at the challenge for Lesson 5, my stomach twisted: “Lesson 5 Challenge: Act on your decision to follow Christ by receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation.”

"Ugh, not confession," I thought. I put the thought at the back of my mind. I had at least a month to figure out a way to get out of it.

In hindsight, this is where God started working to change my heart. I told my friend in the faith study about my hesitation with completing the confession challenge. She told me that she felt going back to confession was the right step in her own spiritual journey. “I wish I could be that confident about the idea of confession,” I remember thinking. My friend encouraged me that it wasn’t as scary as I was anticipating.

I received more encouragement from my faith study leader after telling her that I wasn’t so sure about the whole confession thing. I knew that returning to the sacrament of confession was what I needed, and what I wanted to do as a way of putting Christ at the center of my life. But I still was very uneasy and uncomfortable about the idea.

Then the day I dreaded came—confession time. I was so nervous. More nervous than starting my first day of graduate studies. My friend and I decided to go to confession together, which was such a blessing because I probably would have chickened out if I went on my own.

I refused to go to confession before Mass times because I was afraid someone I knew would see me. I was worried my new Catholic friends would judge me for how long I would take in the confessional.  Play it safe, I convinced myself, and go on a Wednesday afternoon. My friend and I were both nervous as we sat down in the church on that October afternoon and we tried to calm our nerves before opening the curtain and crossing the threshold into the little wooden confessional. We even did rock-paper-scissors to see who would go first. But in that church, before the presence of the Lord in Eucharistic adoration, I knew I had to go to the confessional first or else I would be too nervous and never go.

I made a B-line for the confessional. It was now or never.

Ever since completing that faith study challenge, my opinion of confession has dramatically changed. It may be because that was the first time I went to confession after making an adult decision to begin a relationship with Jesus, or maybe it’s just because I actually gave the whole confession thing a fair chance. It felt like I was going to confession for the first time in my life, and God showed me that it was nothing to be afraid of.

Going to confession the second time was less daunting, and even less so the third, fourth, and fifth time. I still get some butterflies in my stomach as I wait in line outside of the confessional, but I am not afraid anymore because I know what’s on the other side of the curtain. It’s not a task I am forced to do, but a baptismal privilege to encounter the Lord and receive His mercy and grace. I now view confession not as a thing to check off on my spiritual to-do list, but as an opportunity to be with the Lord and grow closer to Him.

Pope Benedict XVI said it best: “…do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ—and you will find true life.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Mass for the Inauguration of his Pontificate)

I used to be afraid of confession, and therefore I was afraid of Christ. But I put forth the challenge to all of you: give Christ a chance today by going to confession even if it’s been ten years, ten months, or ten days since you last went. His mercy and love is endless and you just might be as surprised as I was returning to confession.

Tips if you’re nervous to go to confession:

  • Go with a friend or someone you know, even if it’s only for moral support. Strength in numbers!
  • Write down what you want to say in confession. When I get nervous, I tend to forget things so it’s good to have a piece of paper to rely on to make sure you cover everything you want to discuss. (*Editor's note: You may want to write it in a way that only you can understand, in case you accidentally misplace the note)
  • If you’re just starting out, try giving your confession to a few different priests. It’s good to get different perspectives and advice.
  • Most importantly, surrender your fears and worries to the Lord in prayer! Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you and trust that the Lord will meet you where you are. 

Emma Hunter is a graduate student at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario where she studies Canadian and European history. You can follow her on Twitter at @emmhunter

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