I just came from dinner with an old friend. This friend is unique in the fact that he recently decided to become a Franciscan Friar. I know little about the ins and outs of the Christian/Catholic religion, so I find my conversations with him more interesting than usual because my ignorance on the specifics of his lifestyle lead to a lot of questions which lead to a lot of in depth discussions.
One thing I found most fascinating was the concept of confession. He was telling me that he actually had one indiscretion this year that he was worried might affect his standing in the Friarhood. However, apparently no one of importance noticed and once he went to confession he felt absolved of all guilt.
Really? It’s that easy???
I don’t mean that as an insult to the Catholic religion, I really don’t. I just don’t understand how simply vocalizing your mistakes to the right person at the right time (in this instance, a man in a box) makes them go away. Admit your guilt and all is absolved. It’s that easy, apparently, because you are now “right with the lord” for having simply recognized your sins and you can now go on your merry way. I really just can’t wrap my brain around the simplicity of it.
Don’t get me wrong: this all sure sounds nice. More than nice, this sounds fantastic with the simplicity and straightforwardness of it all. Maybe I should have been raised Catholic instead of Unitarian? Or maybe I am not entirely understanding the concept.
Regardless, I thought more about it on the drive home and continued to obsess over how relieving and easy this process must be. I conjured up my own memories that carried guilt and realized how much this emotion plagues me on a regular basis. True, I have never done anything truly, severely, reprehensible. I have never physically harmed anyone or done anything significantly illegal (more or less). And I have never acted with malevolence or intended malice. But this doesn’t mean I don’t still feel immensely-sometimes overwhelmingly-guilty about the way I have acted in certain times in my life.
The truth is there are a large variety of instances I wish I could go back and change or memories that flat out make me cringe when I think of them and how I acted. I have, on many occasion, gotten too drunk and acted extraordinarily (and often publicly) stupid or rude or made poor choices that not only endangered me, but sometimes others and my relationships with people. I have slept with people I shouldn’t have; people who were otherwise attached or while I was otherwise attached. I have, in moments of heightened emotions, spoken badly of others only to later wish I kept my mouth shut. I have agreed to things I wish that I didn’t, because later I found it embarrassing or hurtful to others. I have strung men along under the pretense of ‘giving the relationship a chance’ knowing that I had no real intention of sticking with them for the long term . I have fallen in love with people and acted insane- ready to drop my entire life and move across continents. I have bowed out of both platonic and romantic relationships, entirely ungracefully. I have flat out lied, at times. I have judged people unfairly. I have wished for negativity to be enacted on others.
I am not proud of any of this. Sometimes the thoughts of things that I did bring a sense of shame and guilt so overwhelming it can bring me to tears. How I wish I really believed in life how the Catholics do, and could have this burden so easily lifted from my shoulders by confessing all that I have done wrong!
But do I wish that? Maybe the shame and the guilt and all of those negative emotions from all of the mistakes in your life is what propels you to be better. I know in many of the instances that I feel most guilty about, there was little to no real, physical, ramifications; life has largely remained unchanged in the broader sense outside of my own head. Without those negative emotions as consequences, perhaps I would not know better for next time? Perhaps I would not have had the wherewithal and courage I needed to be in a healthy, functional romantic relationship. Instead I would still be in relationship, after relationship, either without the fortitude to communicate what I am really feeling and thinking or still seeking out partners who are, in reality, unavailable and unobtainable (girlfriends, fake, long distance, commitment phobic etc). Even more likely, I would probably still be drinking too heavily and making multiple horrifying choices and public displays of embarrassment each weekend, as I did for many, many months after my divorce.
Maybe, all of the guilt and negativity are simply now a part of me, like an appendage. They are the pieces of armor, that keep me from getting hurt again and their heaviness, a reminder to do good in this world. Do better. Do the best you can.
And maybe that’s not something I can get from any religion. Maybe, I have become my own guardian angel, finding strength in my weakness. Perhaps, as a result of all this turmoil, I have become my own savior, guided by my guilt, creating my own shot at redemption.