by Jennifer Smith
I was guilty. And anguished by what I had done. No matter how I tried to justify what I had done by calling it a means to an end, or a way to get ahead, I just couldn’t comprehend how I had gone this far. I had sinned this way before, but I was always able to move past it. My sins often hurt people, but to my thinking, I had to take care of myself and “make my own luck.”
This view had always made it possible for me to feel very little guilt. But not this time. My sin was especially cruel and awful. It was a calculated sin, and its severity took me by surprise. No matter how hard I tried, I was not able to rationalize it. This sin was torturing me. I would lie in bed at night and fight the sin tooth and nail.
It was in my face, flaunting itself, relentlessly accusing and taking delight in my fretting and pain. I was like an animal in a cage, pacing back and forth in my mind, trying to blame others, trying even to blame God. I was not sleeping. I was not eating. I had become introverted. Friends and family noticed. I was in agony. One night, I gave up all the excuses, the rationalizations, the blaming, and I fell on my knees, begging God to help me.
And He did.
I googled the word sin. Eventually, this led me to “sin and forgiveness,” then to “confession and forgiveness,” and finally to “confession and absolution.” I read all about confession. This was something I longed to do, but I did not associate private confession with my nominal church home. Yet, I thought the act of confession would free me from this sin. I had to be free. I couldn’t stand the torture anymore.
I thought long and hard about going to an online confession site and just putting my sin out there for the world to see. Others were doing it. I could hide my identity. But it just seemed to be lacking something. Somehow—I know now it was by the grace of God—I came to the Web site of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lockport, Ill. The pastor, Rev. Mark Hein, had written an article for his parishioners about the importance of private confession and absolution in a Christian’s life. He gave times he would be available in the church to hear these confessions and give absolution. I had an instantaneous, almost uncontrollable desire to meet this Pastor Hein in his church and confess what I had done. But there was a problem. I had never heard of Lockport, Ill. And it was half a country away. But there was a “contact the pastor” option; so I clicked on it.
I e-mailed a few basic questions about confession and absolution, thinking a response was unlikely. But I was in too much agony not to try. To my surprise, Pastor Hein responded. He described confession and absolution and asked if he could set me up with a Lutheran pastor in my area.
My immediate thought was no way! I was still trying to deny this sin, still trying to evade its power over me. Suddenly, the fear that someone would know what I had done was trumping the torture this sin had been causing me. So I e-mailed back with a few more questions about private confession and absolution.
Yes, I was stalling. Trying to decide if this sin was really plaguing me enough to visit a local pastor. Telling myself that I was giving this sin too much importance in my life, that I just needed to just get over it.
One e-mail led to another on that pivotal Sunday night, and the next thing I knew, I was telling Pastor Hein that I had sinned grievously, and I wholeheartedly regretted what I had done. Instantly he was back. I will never forget the words he wrote: “Because Jesus Christ has died for you, and because you truly and heartily repent of your sin, you are forgiven. You really are. Your sin is gone.”
Then I cried, suddenly and powerfully released from my prison. I told Pastor Hein that I wasn’t sure what had just happened but in those words I could feel this sin just evaporate and float away. It was gone. Really and truly gone. That night, for the first time in two months, I slept peacefully and soundly. My dreams were joyful and calm. I woke up renewed and restored, finally free.
The online confession sites I explored don’t give the full benefit of private confession and absolution. I was tempted by these sites, thinking the freedom from the sin would come in the confession. In fact, I never really told Pastor Hein the actual sin. But I did confess that I had sinned and was sorry. God knew the sin.
However, it was not in the act of confession that I experienced relief. The peace, the release, and the solace came in the absolution. Those words are not psychobabble. They are real. I felt those words. The words of forgiveness calmed my very troubled heart. They healed my soul. The absolution is real, it is powerful, it is living, it is Jesus.
This story is not over. It is still being written. Pastor Hein was able to connect us, my whole family, with a local Lutheran pastor through a series of “coincidences” that is a story in itself. To that pastor I did confess the specifics of my sin. And he also pronounced absolution. We—my husband and children and I—are on a journey, now learning the cycle of repentance and forgiveness that characterizes the Christian life. Together with the whole Christian church, we weekly confess our sins and receive absolution. But I will never forget the incredible freeing power from that awe-filled, life-changing Sunday night of private confession and absolution.
I copied the words from that e-mail absolution to have as a daily reminder. And I will always have a special place in my heart for my first pastor, Pastor Hein, this man I have never seen, whose voice I have never heard. The pastor who reached across cyberspace and, on the merits of Jesus, “loosed” my sin. Thank you, Pastor Hein. Thank You, Jesus!
Jennifer Smith is a pseudonym for the author, who submitted this story to Rev. Mark Hein, pastor of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Lockport, Ill., in the hope that it would be published and so encourage others to avail themselves of private confession and absolution. only Pastor Hein and the pastor to whom he referred the author know the name and circumstances of the author, who has approved the publication of this story.