We do earnestly repent,
And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings;
The remembrance of them is grievous unto us, the burden of them is intolerable.
- The Book of Common Prayer, “The Confession of Sin,” Rite I
There have been times when I have thought the language of the prayer book to be overly harsh and difficult for modern ears to hear. To this end, I have sometimes avoided using such words so as not to “offend” those who might be within earshot. Over the years, I have come to love these words, because, rightly understood, they speak to me of the immeasurable love and mercy of God.
When I minimize the role that evil can play in my life (individually and collectively) I run the risk of thinking that I can do this “transformation thing” all on my own. Somehow, the burden of my misdoings becomes more tolerable, and I begin to pile them on – incrementally, until one day, they all catch up with me. When this happens, I can begin a downward trail toward depression and despair.
Only when I have realized (repeatedly) that I am powerless to save myself, that I need a savior that is outside of my own powers and strengths, that I can, in fact, begin the process of overcoming them. This is the moment when the words are no longer seemingly condemnatory but in fact point to the lovingkindness of God. When I am at my weakest do I see the strength of God manifest itself. Otherwise, I make the mistake that I am in control of my life and world in which I live.
My misdoings are genuinely burdensome when I refuse to acknowledge them. They become as the chains that bind the ghost of Marley in “A Christmas Carol.” While it may seem odd to bring a traditionally Christmas tale into a Lenten reflection, it seems less so to realize that the entire story is a story of redemption – and that is, after all, the point of Lent: to realize that I forge burdensome chains that I am destined to carry about through my life, unless, in recognizing them for what they are, I am freed of them through the power of God to forgive, to heal, and to make whole.
Therein is the irony: it is when I recognize what is burdensome that I can be relieved of the burden. This is the greatness of God’s lovingkindness. This is the great grace of Lent.