“I didn’t mean to!“
I was kneeling in the back of church, I had just gone to confession. Like so many times before, I was worried that I “hadn’t confessed my sins ‘well enough.'”
This was pretty constant for me. Most confessions never felt like confession, I usually came out more anxious than I went in.
I was 24 at the time.
I had struggled with scrupulosity ever since I was 11 . Sometimes it was literally crippling (I remember a time I couldn’t pick a pair of scissors up off a table because I thought it might be a mortal sin). Other times it was less so, but still frustrating and anxiety-inducing.
I was praying for guidance. I was really confused. I was asking God to please show me why I was so afraid of making a bad confession.
I started to feel something in my mind. A sort of pressure. I could tell that it was an emotional memory, but I couldn’t see it clearly.
I closed my eyes and concentrated on the pressure. I pushed on it and tried to make it grow. I started to feel more stressed and anxious, and I knew I was close to uncovering the truth behind the emotional barrier.
All of a sudden a clear memory jumped into my mind.
I was 10 years old, sitting on my bed. I was crying.
My mom was sitting on the bed with me.
“I didn’t mean to, mom,” I said, “I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong.”
My mom answered, “I know that John, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
That was it.
In that moment, I understood. I saw the truth.
A major part of my scrupulosity, still haunting me 14 years later, was directly tied to this moment.
My mother was well-intentioned (ironic, considering her words), but she has no idea what her words would do to me.
I was always getting in trouble as a boy. I was headstrong and didn’t listen, and I never wanted to do anything I was told to do.
At the same time, I also didn’t really have a good sense of what was appropriate or inappropriate. I would do all sorts of things without thinking about it, only to discover I was hurting someone’s feelings or breaking a rule.
In these moments, my words were usually the same. “I didn’t mean to.” It was true, I didn’t.
My mom didn’t accept that as an excuse. I still needed to “learn my lesson.”
But I didn’t learn the lesson I was supposed to. Instead I learned that it doesn’t matter what our intentions are, we’re judged only by what we do.
I learned my heart didn’t matter. Only my actions did.
As I grew up and started taking my faith more seriously, this view transferred from my parents to God.
God was now the one who said, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
God was now the one who demanded perfect actions, not a good heart. This was why, whenever I went to confession, I couldn’t believe that God forgave me. I kept sinning right? I kept doing the wrong thing.
If I was really sorry, I would have stopped this behavior a long time ago. God didn’t trust me anymore. My actions spoke louder than my words.
My “sorry” was empty.
God is Our Father
“God never tires of forgiving us, we are the ones who tire of seeking His mercy.” – Pope Francis
It took me many years to begin to understand the depth of God’s love and what His Mercy truly means.
The thing that finally opened my eyes was having my own son. One day I was praying in a chapel, and I was reflecting on my own fatherhood.
I was thinking about the fact that my son could never do anything to make me stop loving him. Even when I lost my temper or he was doing something he shouldn’t be, even the slightest look of contrition on his face and my heart would melt.
As I reflected on this, I heard God say to me, “as you look at Sebastian, so I look at you.”
In that moment I had a flash of understanding. It didn’t happen on a conscious level, but I felt deep in my soul that God loved me in a way I would never understand.
My own love for my son is a guiding light for me. God loves me as His because I am His son. He is my Father. Our own human parents fail us. I am currently failing my own son right now.
But God never does. God is not human, he is not like our human parents, he doesn’t have a temper. His love has no conditions.
The truth is simple. Your “sorry” is enough.
At one look of contrition from you, God’s Fatherly heart melts. It is literally true that you cannot make God turn His back on you. You are not capable of doing that. God’s forgiveness is beyond our human comprehension. You hear this a lot, so you probably stopped thinking about it, but it’s true.
This matters because our human comprehension is the thing that keeps us wondering, “will God forgive me.” We can’t conceive of such an unlimited mercy because our own human hearts are so bad at forgiveness and mercy.
God is not restricted by our shallow understanding. Your heart matters. Your “sorry” is enough. All God asks is for your effort.
He takes care of everything else.