Get off the guilt ride.

Sometimes going to church feels like one big AA meeting. “Hi, my name is Betsy, and I’m a sinner.” Every week we have a confession of sin. One of the prayers from the Book of Common Prayer is “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves…” The sad part is that I just wrote that out from memory. I can be having a pretty awesome week and there I am again on my knees saying that I am a sinner.

It softens the blow a little to say “we” so we aren’t just confessing our own faults but those of everybody. I’d said those words for years, but it was reading a book written by the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor that opened my eyes to that point. Maybe it is kind of like Job. He did all the offerings to pay for his own sins, and then did some extra to pay for those of his children just in case.

But then it just gets into the whole nature of sin. Sin is sometimes defined as “missing the mark.” When you aim an arrow you intend it to go a certain place. If it falls short, it has missed the mark. The same is true of intentions. If you mean to do well but you don’t try hard enough, your effort falls short. Remember “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”? That. You meant well, but you just didn’t give it enough gas, so you didn’t get where you meant to. You meant to take food to that friend who was sick. You meant to volunteer in the school. You meant to donate money to the battered women’s shelter. You meant to be nicer to your coworkers. And you never found the time, and things got away from you.

How much of that is us living in a passive way? How much of that is us thinking that life happens to us, rather than us intentionally living our lives? And how much of that is simply human nature? Is that “sin” or is it just part of the baggage?

I remember talking with a friend who had converted from Christianity to Judaism. From what I understood, his biggest issue with the idea of Jesus being the atonement for sins was that we humans are by nature not perfect. We can’t be perfect. So why do we need someone to pay for our sins? He didn’t feel that Jesus’ sacrifice was necessary at all.

I have to admit that sometimes I think like this too. I’m more about Jesus’ life than his death. I see him as a great role model. He is a champion for the underdog. He showed love to everyone. He was all about telling other people that they had within them the same ability to love and heal. He didn’t just heal all on his own – he made sure that his disciples had the gift of the Holy Spirit within them to do the same. Thus, by extension, all Christians have the same ability.

Healing isn’t just mending a broken leg. It is also about mending relationships. It is about building bridges between people of different backgrounds and between people and God. Healing is about making whole. It is about making the hurt go away. I think there is healing that comes from letting people know that it is OK to make mistakes and that they are normal.

We try to do well, and we fail, and we try again. This is part of the journey. We can never be perfect like Jesus was. We can never ever get there – it just isn’t possible. So why do we constantly beat ourselves up for something that we can’t do? And why do we think that it is helpful to focus on our sins every week?

We are told in the 1 John 1:8 “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” But we are also told in 2 Corinthians 5:17 ” Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” So what is it? In which way are we deceiving ourselves? Are we deceiving ourselves that we are without sin, or are we deceiving ourselves that we still have sin after Jesus paid for them? If we are a new creation and our sins are forgiven, how does it help to beat ourselves up over it? If we can never be perfect because of our human nature, then why do we confess our imperfectness every week? Why are we beaten up for something that can never be fixed? And are we even broken to start with?

Yes, it is good to be reminded of the fact that Jesus lets us know that we are forgiven. It is good to know that everything we did and everything we are going to do has been paid for. It is good to be mindful of our behavior and to constantly try to do better. But it is also good to be mindful of the fact that we can’t ever hit the mark. We will be shooting that arrow every day until we die and we still won’t get it right. We can try to get it closer, but we will never win the prize. It is like playing a game of skill at the county fair. The machine is fixed. You’ll never win the fluffy gorilla. So maybe it is time to stop playing the game.