Our website is made possible by displaying online ads to our visitors.
Please consider supporting us by whitelisting our site.

A 3-year-old’s guide to confession

First slide

The text from my sister-in-law went out to the whole extended family late one morning recently. It was one of those parenting moments too good to keep to yourself. She was about to walk into the living room that morning when she heard my 3-year-old niece speaking in a hushed voice to her closest confidant, known simply as Stuffed Rabbit. 

“I do not like God!” my niece whispered urgently to Stuffed Rabbit. Then she paused, carefully weighing her next words.

“I do not like God because I do not want to obey,” she concluded.

Stuffed Rabbit was speechless. My niece — usually a beautiful tempest of motion and sound — was wordless and still. My sister-in-law took a deep breath, stepped into the room, and invited her daughter to breakfast.

Only later did she learn that her husband had a “big talk” with their daughter the night before on the topic of obedience. This was the morning-after — her daughter’s time to process, to work through the finer points with Stuffed Rabbit.

I am not your spiritual director, but humor me. As a spiritual exercise, try saying the following out loud (and maybe, like my niece, in a hushed voice and hopefully out of earshot): “I do not like God. I do not like God because I do not want to obey.”

As we outgrow our own stuffed rabbit and venture into adulthood, we develop lots of sophisticated ways to avoid admitting what my niece voiced. The years go by and we slip into routines and habits that pull us ever so slightly away from God. We hold on to seemingly innocuous pet sins. Few if any people give us a “big talk” on obedience, so instead of confronting our troubled relationship with obedience, we rationalize. We slap a new layer of paint on the façade.

Jesus placed a child in the midst of his disciples and said, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” 

Unless I become like my niece, I will not enter the kingdom of heaven? Yes, unless I acknowledge that I so often resist obedience to God, I will remain stuck. Masked, my “dislike” will not be brought out into the open and (gradually, Lord willing) transformed into a vibrant, abundant and all-consuming love for the Lord, his commandments and others.

The honesty my sister-in-law stumbled upon that morning in the living room had a dearest, deep-down, “kingdom” quality to it. After all, my niece’s humility — and stubborn pride — is only a small step away from the loving and merciful heavenly Father.

Jesus Christ offers you and me the indescribable gift of entering this kingdom through the sacrament of confession. But first, we must take the lead of my 3-year-old niece and “process” our own disobedience and dislike of the commandments, which seem to so restrain our precious freedom.

During our next examination of conscience, we can call to mind my niece’s conversation with Stuffed Rabbit, and ask if the words “I do not like God because I do not want to obey” reflect the reality of our own hearts. If so, let’s begin our next confession with an admission as brazen and basic as my niece’s: “I have not loved the Lord my God with all my heart, my soul and my mind.”

As we recollect our hearts in the confession line next time, we will not have my niece’s comparative childlike advantage. But Jesus invites us to summon forth the same caliber of childlikeness. This is a mighty hard mental and spiritual exercise for those of us who prize our self-reliance and everything we’ve accomplished since we put away our stuffed rabbits many years ago. It will require us to put down our pet sins, our trophies, our oversized adult egos, and pick up the heart of a 3-year-old. We must do so. The kingdom of God is at hand.

Soren Johnson is co-founder, with his wife, of Trinity House Cafe in Leesburg. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019