Jack is going through the sacrament of First Penance and Reconciliation next week. This is the Catholic ceremony of the first confession in which a child examines their conscience, asks for forgiveness for their sins, prays, and is granted absolution.
I love the psychology of the rite of passage. We look inward and examine the difference between right and wrong. We think about the times we did the wrong thing, especially if we knowingly did the wrong thing. We take responsibility for those shortcomings. We feel genuine remorse. We speak our failures out loud, and undertake the work of making things right through our actions.
Catholic sacraments become a part of who we are. Anyone who knows me or reads my blog knows I believe in taking ownership for my actions. I don’t make excuses and I’m my toughest critic. When I make a mistake or when my efforts just aren’t good enough, I go through a process of mental self punishment eventually forcing myself to get stronger so I can do better in the future.
This strategy of extreme ownership (to borrow Jocko Wilink’s phrase) has its advantages. You can get pretty far in life if you stay on a path of continuous self improvement. You can create success where others have failed simply by refusing to make excuses and by not giving up until you find a way to win. You can stay humble recognizing your weaknesses and shortcomings even in the face of objective success.
But lately I’ve been thinking about how this strategy of self-accountability can also be limiting without a check and balance system.
You’ve probably heard the term Catholic Guilt before, right? Catholic Guilt describes the stereotype of having an overactive and overly critical conscience. It’s not hard to imagine the negative consequences that follow.
I’m working on changing some negative behavioral patterns that aren’t serving me anymore. From simple acts like being overly self-deprecating or not being able to accept a compliment or being too quick to attribute success to luck. On a deeper level, constant self criticism can lead to low self esteem, self doubt, feeling like a fraud, anxiety, and fear. All of these problems compound with time, leading to burn out we don’t have a process of healing.
Watching Jack go through Reconciliation is helping me evolve my thinking. What’s supposed to happen at the end of confession is absolution. Forgiveness. An unburdening. Absolution is supposed to be a renewal. We’re not perfect. We make mistakes, we do the wrong thing, and sometimes we even do the wrong thing on purpose. But we don’t have to carry that weight with us forever.
Forgiveness is certainly not about living a care free life, committing whatever moral blunders we want as long as we’re sorry in the end. Accountability matters. Responsibility matters. Trying to do better matters. And when we miss, it’s OK. We can be forgiven. We can forgive ourselves. We don’t have to be so hard on ourselves. It’s OK to let go and move on. And then we can face the world with a renewed soul.
It’s amazing how revising things you experienced as a child reveals the layers of depth that were hidden previously to you. It’s also amazing how much you can learn from your kids, from their experiences, from seeing how they interact with the world. Your kids hold a mirror up to you, revealing the worst and best parts of you in a way that only they can possibly do. This can be an incredibly valuable gift if you’re open to learning and growing with your kids.