Lightening the Load

When I led the 14 mile hikes that we took our oldest campers on during my time as the camp director at the Antiochian Village, I surprised some campers by taking a larger number of the shared items needing to be carried. I would volunteer to take the fairly heavy fuel bottles for the camp stoves, along with some of the shared food items.

The campers might have thought I was being kind and generous by taking more than my share, but the reality was that this middle-aged camp director knew that teenage campers could handle more than me, so I picked the two items that only got lighter as the trip went on!

In life, too often we carry burdens that we really don’t need to, be they physical ones like on our backpacking trips, but also emotional baggage and even spiritual heaviness. God, being as merciful as He is, offers us a remedy from carrying spiritual burdens that don’t need to be carried. That gift is called Holy Confession. In Confession, He gives us the chance to unburden our loads and be restored and renewed just as we were when coming out of the Baptismal font, clean and free of burden. It’s one of the reasons it can be a blessing to cry in Confession—the tears remind us of our Baptismal waters.

Confession is the naming of not simply our bad choices, but of all the things we have done that are precisely not us. Unconfessed sin can lead us to identify ourselves with our sins. Confession corrects that misidentification and reminds us that the truest version of ourselves is the one hidden under all our sin. We carry our sin as a burden that is our own doing, but is not properly ours. In Holy Confession, we both acknowledge our own responsibility in committing sin, AND get rid of it as the burden that was never supposed to be ours in the first place.

But what if we don’t feel any burden? What if all this talk of “lightening the load” seems irrelevant—like something other people must feel but not me? Well, remember those backpacking trips I mentioned at the outset? Let me tell you about this guy that was on every backpacking trip I took, for years. Oh, it wasn’t really the same person with the same name, but every hike I took had that guy. Always a guy, usually tall, and always more athletic than intelligent. When the group would gather around all the equipment that had to be divvied up to be carried, the leader would say something like “And we need someone strong to carry the tents, since they’re the heaviest things we’ll be taking.” Without fail that guy would jump forward, one arm raised, and proudly proclaim, “That’s me!” About every other hike, he’d say, “Give me two of them.” And depending on how strong he looked, sometimes we would! And as I would watch, he always did the same thing. He’d show no signs of struggle, as at first he probably wouldn’t even allow himself the knowledge that he was struggling. And he’d never admit it publicly. But it became more and more obvious with each passing mile: he was struggling under the weight of the load in his pack. If it was one of the times he took two tents, we’d offer to let someone else take one of them, but only rarely would he accept. By the end of the 14 miles, he’d be sweating up a storm and huffing and puffing along. And there I was: comfortably carrying my empty fuel bottles and nearly empty food bags.

And in that is our choice: struggle along with a heavy load, whether we admit it–to ourselves or anyone else–or not. Or instead, to shed the burden of our sins in the Mystery of Confession. It’s a Mystery in that we do something absolutely terrifying–admitting to God in front of another (the Priest) our worst and most embarrassing secrets–but leave feeling like the weight of the world has been taken off our shoulders. And it’s a Mystery in that hidden beneath the experience of this lightening of our load, true spiritual healing takes place in ways hidden even from ourselves.

So, yes, Confession is hard. Confession is humbling. Confession takes courage and faith. But Confession is refreshing. Confession is renewing. Confession is restorative. Confession is the unburdening of our souls of the weight of sin and guilt, and it is spiritual healing Physician of our Souls and the Lover of Mankind.

We’ll be taking a look at Confession in a series of 10 minute reflections which will take place over dessert at our Lenten potluck suppers following each Wednesday’s Presanctified Liturgy, beginning tonight (for more information, click here). Join us and learn more about this Sacrament, this Mystery, this Miracle, called Holy Confession. And let’s not be that guy. Let’s accept the Lord’s invitation to lighten the load: “Come to be, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).