Confession for Perfectionists

confessionI might be the only person who loves Mondays — in fact, it’s my favorite day of the week. Now that all my kids are in school, it’s the day I get to take the house back from the chaos of the weekend and get back to work on my own projects. But even when the kids were little and the routine of the weekend didn’t differ much from the routine of the week, Monday always felt like a fresh start. It was a new beginning, another chance to eat healthier, to stay more organized, to stick to my schedule. This week I’ll do better.

Not surprisingly, I’m also the kid who eagerly anticipated the first day of school: the smell of freshly sharpened pencils, a stack of empty pages, a box of pristine crayons. The start of a new school year accompanied a list of resolutions: this year I’ll be more organized, this year I’ll be less shy.

I’m also the one who hosts the biggest New Years Eve party; while most of my friends are making excuses to stay in with their families and have a low-key evening at home that ends well before midnight, I’m calculating how much champagne forty adults will drink. The next morning as I clean up the empty bottles and put away the party hats for another year, I mentally catalogue my resolutions: this year I’ll finally lose those extra pounds, I’ll keep my house tidy, I’ll be consistent in prayer.

And I’m also the one who can’t wait to go to confession. I never understood my friends and family members who put it off or dreaded going. Who wouldn’t love the chance for a clean soul, a clean slate, a fresh start to, as St. Teresa of Avila was known to say, “begin again”? Was I just that much more humble than everyone else that I found it so much easier to confess all my sins, I’d wonder, without seeing the irony! Then one day as I was coming out of the confessional with the usual absolution-induced smile on my face, I thought to myself “this time I’ll be perfect.”


A typical New Year’s Eve party: loud music, lots of champagne, and high hopes for the coming year.

My breath caught in my throat. Is this why I’ve been going to confession? Is this why I love it so much, spilling my sins and collecting my absolution, so that I can go off on my own and try again to get it right? I realized suddenly that I had been considering and confessing my sins less as offenses against God and His Divine Love, but more as my own personal failures, and that confession had become less about restoring my relationship with God, and more about my desire for perfection.

Was my examination of conscience a prayerful reflection of how I’d failed to love God and neighbour, or was it a self-analysis of how I’d failed myself and what I needed to fix? Was I striving for the perfection that St. Teresa of Avila speaks of as consisting in “the increase of love,” or was I merely attempting to be flawless, errorless, free from mistakes, and free from failure? That’s a lofty goal for a mere mortal!

I still love Mondays, the new year, and fresh starts. I’m still an optimistic perfectionist that thinks “this time I’ll do better.” I still berate myself when I forget an appointment, or “cheat on my diet”, or skip a personal commitment. But now when I go to confession, I try to focus on how I’ve wounded my relationship with God and neighbour, and less on how I’ve disappointed myself. And every day I strive a bit more to be perfectly united to God’s will, even if that means I’ll appear foolish, or imperfect, and even it means I’ll fail. Maybe one day I’ll finally get it right. 😉



About Holly Gustafson

Holly lives with her husband, James, and their five children in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. She received her Masters in Linguistics at the University of Manitoba and now pursues her love of language through art, writing, public speaking, and unsolicited grammatical advice. Her favorite show is always the one she’s currently watching, and her favorite saint is always the one she’s currently reading. The best advice she ever received was from her spiritual friend, St. Faustina, who told her that when in doubt, “Always ask Love. It advises best.”
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