Who’s Coming to Dinner?
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson
“Who do you want at your birthday dinner?” Mom asked.
“No one, just you.” I replied.
“I’m ashamed of where my life is right now and I don’t want to spend the evening explaining that.”
After Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge, God knowing what they’d done, came looking for them, calling out for them. They responded by covering their bodies in shame and hiding from their Creator.
When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, she was there in the blazing afternoon sun because her five marriages had made her a social pariah who could only come to draw water when no one else was around.
After the Prodigal Son had squandered his inheritance and was left homeless and starving, he returned to his father’s estate, not as a son, but filled with shame and asking for nothing more than to work as a servant.
Shame clouds how we see ourselves and our perception of how others’ see us. As Saint Paul wrote, it is as if we can no longer see through the glass clearly.
During Lent, Catholics are encouraged to go to Confession and receive penance to make amends for sins.
The idea of public confession and penance made me uncomfortable, and so for the first thirty years after becoming a Catholic, I went to Confession perhaps three times.
My rationale was what good would it do to open old wounds? Why not hide these things that embarrassed me? Bury them deep in my heart, hide them in the dark, don’t talk about them and if that doesn’t do the trick, stop seeing the people who knew me before I fell from grace. Before I became a disappointment to them.
Which is why Adam and Eve covered themselves with leaves, the Prodigal son headed for the barn instead of the front door, why the Samaritan woman put herself at risk by going to the well when no one else was near, and why I chose to celebrate my birthday with only Mom.
Yesterday, I watched a video called “Forgiven” on Formed.org which helped me to view things differently.
When God walked through the Garden of Eden calling out to Adam and Eve, perhaps what disturbed him most was that the two people he loved dearly had turned their backs on him, ending their relationship.
When Jesus met the woman at the well, he confronted her with the lifestyle that caused her to be ostracized by her community. But then after reconciling her to the futility of that path, he sent her off on a new one, to announce the arrival of the Messiah, to her people.
As the prodigal son returned down the road that had sent him away from his father, he discovered his father running toward him arms outstretched, welcoming him home.
Each case demonstrates our need to expose our shame to the bright light of confession, whether in the privacy of the Confessional, or in the public amend-making space with those we have hurt. Here, we take responsibility for the actions that brought us to this place. We ask forgiveness of God and those we have harmed. Not so that we are humiliated, but so that in humility we see what we need to change in our lives, honestly.
Here is where lasting personal growth takes place. Here is where we, like the Samaritan woman are set on a new path and given the opportunity to begin again. Still with our tender bruises, but wiser, freer.
Here we discover the gift of forgiveness. The grace of God’s compassion. The sacrament of reconciliation to our Lord. And in that holy space between us and God we discover that although we journeyed far from home, God always loved us, always stood at the road watching and waiting for our return, ready to make us whole again. Confession is essential because it takes our greatest fear, of not being forgiven, and exposes it to the light of God’s love and exposes the lie that we tell ourselves, which is that we are unforgivable.
Yesterday I went to confession, and because of my shame I covered my face with my hands as I sobbed and sobbed. I confessed my broken heart at God’s silence and my despondency in believing that I was not good enough or smart enough or beautiful enough to ever be the woman that God created me to be.
Once I finished, Father Joe gently placed his hand on my bowed head and prayed that God would erase these lies from my mind and assure me that I am always loved. Always treasured. No matter what the world may say of my shortcomings. No matter how many times I fail. I am God’s child and he loves me more than I will ever know.