September 2021

Dear Friends in Christ,

A light on my dashboard just flashed on. It says: Maintenance Required. No problem–that just means that it’s due for an oil change.

It used to be that when one of those warning lights came on, you had better pull over fast! An explosion was imminent–or at least a small engine fire. Possibly, if you’re lucky, you’d only crack an engine block. Black smoke come billowing out from beneath your hood. Abandon ship! Run for it, kids! Hit the deck!

Then cars got sophisticated. Lights started going on all of the time. Eventually, we learned to ignore them. “That light? Oh, that is telling me that the tire pressure is low. But I checked it; it’s fine. The sensor is bad.” “That light over there? Oh, that’s indicating that the emissions from the car would be deemed substandard in the state of California.” If you drive a vehicle long enough, the dashboard is lit up like a Christmas tree.

It occurred to me the other day that every year, on their anniversary, married couples should go see a marriage counselor, just for a check up. Not because anything is necessarily wrong; just for regular maintenance.

We take our vehicles in for regular maintenance. It’s not because there’s something wrong. It’s preventative. We’re trying to avoid a roadside emergency. I wonder why we don’t do the same in regard to our spiritual and emotional well-being. Just a regular check-up. I think that would be a salubrious habit.

Such routine maintenance was once practiced regularly through private confession and absolution. Instead of waiting for a real emergency, or just ignoring all of the warning signals, people would engage in a simple, preventative spiritual exercise. One benefit of such a practice might be that we wouldn’t be so hesitant then to make use of the pastor when there is a crisis. It wouldn’t seem so odd. We wouldn’t feel sheepish about doing so.

I don’t harbor any delusions about a sudden resurgence in interest in private confession and absolution. I just want to throw out a few seeds. Who knows, maybe in 10, 50, or a hundred years such a notion might take root and produce some reform in our practice. You have to start somewhere. You start with a few seeds.

But, just imagine the good it might do us to consider that our spiritual and emotional health might benefit from regular maintenance instead of waiting for a crisis to arise, and even then feeling embarrassed to seek out help. We might have to admit to our spiritual mechanic that we have been driving for a long time with a lot of warning lights on and ignoring them. Sometimes we wait until things are too far gone. We’re sometimes smarter about caring for our cars than we are in caring for ourselves. We operate under the delusion that we are each capable of caring for ourselves without any assistance, or suppose that we out to be–a sad fiction in a world reared on the gospel of self-reliance (John Wayne) and the notion that there’s a YouTube video always available at our fingertips for a self-fix.

We could all use a little help sometimes. But we don’t make use of the good help partly because we don’t know how, or we haven’t tried. We’ve gotten so far away from the practice of private confession and absolution that we have forgotten how it works.

Who is to blame for this discontinuation is not as important as figuring out how to reintroduce the practice. At some point a person just has to be bold and jump in with both feet. You have to just try it out and find out–it doesn’t hurt. In fact, it might help a lot.

In Christ,

Pastor Picard