yeah. i picked my stupid topic. not like i had much choice in the matter, though. it's been staring me down since last friday night saying "pick me. just suck it up and do it already. i don't care if you don't want to, you HAVE to."
4. WHAT KEEPS US FROM GOD? SIN AND FORGIVENESS: Talk giver must be open about his/her sins; how did your behavior hold you back from fully living your life? What effect does sin have on your personality? On the larger community? What is your experience with forgiveness and the freedom that comes with it? What has your experience with the sacrament of reconciliation been like? How does it feel to know that God forgives you?
quite honestly, the thought of "sharing" about my sinfulness with a group of confirmation kids and a handful of my own peers & friends makes my stomach knot up big time. i've done a lot of stupid things in my life--stupid things that i don't want to tell people about for fear of judgment. not like most people would have the right to judge, since they've probably done the same stupid things i have. it just makes me squeemish because i don't even know why i did them. i probably judge myself more than anyone else judges me.
there are other topics i could choose from. i could talk about Jesus' mission on earth. i could talk about the meaning and importance of the sacrament of confirmation. i could even go in the complete opposite direction of sin and talk about the gifts God has given me. for whatever reason, though, i'm drawn to this one. the more i think about it, the more i realize it's an opportunity to reconcile with myself and my actions.
remember going to confession for the first time ever? you spent months as a little kid remembering what the teachers said you had to do when it happened. there were lines to memorize and motions to follow: "bless me, father, for i have sinned. this is my first confession," followed by a list of all the bad things you've done, and concluded with a sentencing--er, penance--given by the priest, then you had to say the act of contrition but of course there were 20 million different versions of that you could use and no one was quite sure which one was the REAL one. then, when the time came, you got all dressed up and sat in a pew with all the other seven-year-olds wondering what the parish's pastor, one of the highest figures of authority in your life, was going to think of you when you told him about the time you smacked your little brother upside the head because he was being obnoxious, even though he probably deserved it. you sat in the confessional across from the priest, stumbled over your lines, fidgeted a lot and felt like a terrible person for a few minutes, then had a teachable moment and finished the day up with a couple hail mary's and a glory be, and BAM--clean slate.
after the first time, this process became a regular, semi-annual occurance in my life during elementary school. it was the same thing every time; same sins, different day. the worst one was around third grade or so when i finally had the courage to confess to not going to church every sunday. i got a stern lecture from the pastor about how important it is to keep holy the sabbath, and had to say twelve--yes, TWELVE--hail mary's before i could consider myself clean. the great thing about reconciliation, though, was that i could go straight to the big guy to own up everything and got to completely bypass my parents (if they didn't already know about it, that is), thus avoiding punishment and more lecturing. even better was what i was getting in return... it wasn't like mom & dad could guarantee salvation after death for telling them about the time i called chris stupid for no reason other than his being a 5-year-old boy. sweet deal.
eventually, though, i lost God, and everything about faith lost its meaning to me. I went to confession a few times during high school before my own confirmation, but it didn't have the same feel-good effect as before. it was just another meaningless step i had to complete. moreover, i didn't have much incentive not to sin and just act like a moron in general. it's not like i was an out-of-control kid, but i definitely wasn't making decisions as a result of careful consideration or because they were what i thought i wanted.
the first time i went to confession after my confirmation was like the first time i had ever received that sacrament. i was nervous and fidgety and didn't want to go talk to the priest because i felt guilty. i had been on a retreat that whole weekend and i was starting to gain a sense of where i had gotten lost and how to get back to where i needed to be. luckily, paper and pens were provided for those of us who were too afraid to speak. i stared down at a blank sheet for a long time before i knew where to begin, but once my pen hit the paper, i couldn't stop it until everything weighing on my mind was on that paper.
my list of bad things i had done... updated accordingly to fit a young adult instead of a child.
it was a lot different than the one i had given the pastor at st. anne's nearly fourteen years earlier. it was a list full of stupid decisions and moments of weakness, of making in-the-moment decisions without thinking of the long-term consequences on myself and the people around me. the things on that list were the things i had done not because i really wanted to, or thought they might be good ideas, but because i didn't know what else to do.
the last item on my laundry list of sins:
"i am lost and confused. i have walked out on God, and i don't know how to get Him back. my mind has become so clouded over that i can't see clearly anymore."
this time, instead of the lecture i was convinced i was going to get, i got advice. i got empathy and caring. i got responses that showed that FINALLY, for the first time, someone understood what was wrong with me. for the first time in a long time, i felt forgiven and new. like a clean slate again.
later that day, standing next to some of the closest friends i have made over the last four years, including the one who asked me the question that started this thought process, i threw my sin list into a trash can with everyone else's and we all watched as each of our papers burned and turned to ashes at the bottom of the bucket. the sins weren't gone, they didn't disappear, but they were physically different. they had been transformed into something new.
now here i am, almost a year later, more faithful and happy and in-tune with myself than i have ever been. sometimes, like now, i find myself thinking back on the decisions i've made on the past. sometimes they make me angry. sometimes they make me sad. sometimes i get frustrated at myself and sometimes i wish i could build a time machine and take them all back. when i take a step back, though, i remember that i can't really erase my sins. they'll always be there. what's different is the way i look at them. they've been transformed from stains on my soul to teachable moments and, ultimately, steps on the path to where i am now. i've learned a lot from what i've done wrong--i've learned about who i am, about what makes me happy, why i am where i am and why things have happened the way they've happened.
like i said before, i've done a lot of stupid things in my life.
but if it wasn't for those stupid things, i wouldn't be the person i am right now. and i gotta say, i like who i'm becoming these days a lot better than who i have been before.
anyway, yeah, i picked my topic. i don't need an angry email from you. do me a favor though: when you listen to my talk, remember the day we stood and watched those papers burn in the trash, because that's when i became the jenn i am now, the only one of me you've gotten a chance to know. and this jenn really doesn't want you to think any less of her because of the one who used to be in her spot.