Confession is Good for the Soul

David Entrusts a Letter to Uriah - Miserere, p...
David Entrusts a Letter to Uriah – Miserere, psalm 51 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 51

Create in me a clean heart, O God.

    Renew a loyal spirit within me.
Do not banish me from your presence,
    and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.
Psalm 51:10-11 (NLT)

Songs are often best understood in the context of the time and place they were written. It is critical to understand the context of today’s psalm. It was written by David who had just been dramatically confronted with his own wrongdoing by the prophet, Nathan. If you’ve never read the story, or if it’s been a long time since you read it, I encourage you to take a few minutes to read it in 2 Samuel 11-12.

Today’s song is a song of penitence; it expresses regret for wrongdoing and sin. It is easy for me to get cranking through my day. Like David before he was confronted by Nathan, I can easily be distracted by a myriad of thoughts and tasks. I give little thought to the ways I’ve been hurtful to God and others in the course of my day. When I stop for a moment to think about it, however, I am struck at just how far I am from where I want to be. Psalm 51 suddenly becomes very personal. I find my heart crying out like David in confession and a plea for forgiveness.

The old saying is that confession is good for the soul. I believe it to be true. Confession is spiritual chiropractic. It recognizes where we are spiritually out of alignment with God and in need of proper adjustment. It puts us back in place and makes way for spiritual health and all of its benefits.

As I have prayed my way through the Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle, I ran across her use of an ancient litany of the church: The Litany of Penitence. It has done my soul good to make it a regular part of my morning quiet time because as I read through it I am regularly reminded of how much I need confession, repentance, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. While the Litany was originally written to be part of a responsive reading between priest and congregation, here is a variation I often make person prayer to God:

Most holy and merciful Father:

I confess to you and to my brothers and sisters, and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth, that I have sinned by my own fault in thought, word, and deed; by what I have done, and by what I have left undone.

I have not loved you with my whole heart, and mind, and strength. I have not loved my neighbors as myself. I have not forgiven others, as I have been forgiven.

Have mercy on me, Lord.

I have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us. I have not been true to the mind of Christ. I have grieved your Holy Spirit.

Have mercy on me, Lord.

I confess to you, Lord, all my past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of my life,

I confess to you, Lord.

My self-indulgent appetites and ways, and my exploitation of other people,

I confess to you, Lord.

My anger at my own frustration, and my envy of those more fortunate than me,

I confess to you, Lord.

My intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and my dishonesty in daily life and work,

I confess to you, Lord.

My negligence in prayer and worship, and my failure to commend the faith that is in me,

I confess to you, Lord.

Accept my repentance, Lord, for the wrongs I have done: for my blindness to human need and suffering, and my indifference to injustice and cruelty,

Accept my repentance, Lord.

For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward my neighbors, and for my prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from me,

Accept my repentance, Lord.

For my waste and pollution of your creation, and my lack of concern for those who come after me,

Accept my repentance, Lord.

Restore me, good Lord, and let your anger depart from me;

Favorably hear me, for your mercy is great.

Accomplish in me the work of your salvation,

That I may show forth your glory in the world.

By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,

Bring me with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.

6 thoughts on “Confession is Good for the Soul”

  1. The version of the Litany of Penitence that you quote here is from the The Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church. It is part of the liturgy on Ash Wednesday, but may be used at other times as well.

  2. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God.
    Renew a loyal spirit within me.

    This verse is one of my favorites from childhood. It is a simple but profound statement, claiming both my fallen nature and my desire to be reconciled to God.

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