Here’s What a Scrupulous Confession Looks Like

Scrupulosity Video Post

Jaimie Eckert

Published on Mar 20, 2024; Updated on Mar 20, 2024

I’ve sinned, and I know it. My ribcage squeezes together with shame and my stomach turns over. As a person with religious OCD, my guilt isn’t theoretical–it’s something palpable, a real physical sensation. You might think my first response would be to run to God with a scrupulous confession prayer. But for me, that’s not how it works.

When I behave wrongly, I run from Jesus and hide in a corner. I know He’s there, but I turn from Him, unable to handle the encounter.

Not yet. Not quite yet.

There are a number of reasons why I am not ready to confess my sins.

First of all, I know that confession is going to take time. A lot of it. It’ll also involve a lot of emotion. I’ll have to wrangle my emotions up to a high pitch of sorriness and remorse to prove to God that I really mean it. After all, a not-sorry confession isn’t good enough. I need to really feel appropriate regret for my mistakes, and that can take time and mental gymnastics.

Scrupulous Confessions

Because what if I’m not really sorry? What if I actually love my sins? It would be unacceptable to apologize to God if I don’t actually mean it down to the very depths of my soul.

But…is that really the way it always works?

Sometimes there are sinful things that we turn away from only because of our commitment to Jesus Christ, who said, “if you love Me, keep my commandments.” We choose to live a certain way because we love Jesus and want to be beacons of light for Him. We ask Him to sanctify us and cleanse us inside and out because we believe His ways are better for us.

We don’t always turn from sin because we dislike the sin!

Honestly, there are things that I really didn’t want sanctified out of my life. There are a few things I can really pine after if I allow my mind to think too much about them. Yes, I know they aren’t good for me, but man, worldliness can be so enjoyable!

So, if I’m being totally transparent with you, my scrupulous confession can take time because the flesh lusts against the spirit and I don’t always feel sorry. I am sorry with my brain but not with my unsanctified flesh. So I pressure myself to feel sorry enough, and so there I am, having an internal struggle with myself to somehow force the right emotions.

Today, they don’t come quickly enough, and I give up, sinking backwards into a hazy do-nothing space.

Legalistic Approaches to Repentance

I delay doing anything, because any possible action I could take requires thinking and feeling. But I have to make a move, because I can’t sit here in this nebulous state of being unforgiven and doing nothing about it.

Making a true, genuine confession is a big wave to ride, so I need to hype up the energy for it first. But where can I get the energy? I need someone to light a fire under my tail.

I open my phone and search for authors and speakers whom I know give hard messages.

I need a slap in the face, I tell myself. I click a link on what I think will be a message of fire and brimstone. Hit me. Hit me hard.

Unfortunately, I read a message that isn’t very frightening. I click on another link, and another, but the topics end up being fairly easy ones. Ugh. My attempt to frighten myself into repentance isn’t working. I give up.

A faraway Bible verse drifts into the edges of my consciousness. The goodness of God leads you to repentance (Romans 2:4). Well, I don’t want any of that goodness today. If I’m totally honest, I’m mad.

Mad that I can’t enjoy sin with a clear conscience. Mad that the rules of the universe got set up in such a way that hard things are often good for you and pleasurable things are sometimes forbidden. Mad that when I do stumble and fall, that I have an annoyingly long, draining process to get “right” again. Mad at myself for being imperfect. Mad at God for making rules.

Just…mad.

It’s the end of day one of my scrupulous confession. I haven’t gotten to the confessing part yet. I go to bed, mad.

Day Two of My Scrupulous Confession

On the second day of my attempted confession, I wake up somewhat softened from the day before. I’m not mad anymore. The anger has melted into sadness, and I avoid thinking about it too much. I avoid thinking about God, because then I’d definitely have to start the confession already.

And it still feels like too much to handle.

Today, my brain reminds me that it’s not just a matter of showing appropriate contrition and sorrow. There’s also the element of repeat stumblings. How many times have I messed up in this exact same way? By now, God must be ready to shut the door on me. Why can’t I learn?

Maybe I’ve committed the unpardonable sin, I think. I’m done for. A goner.

If I continue to stumble in the same way over and over again, it must indicate lack of true repentance, right?

My thinking starts to get cyclical, and I quietly step back from myself. I see myself getting obsessive, and I recognize it’s better not to go cyclical. I decide to come back later.

But I know I do need to come back, because even an OCD diagnosis can’t negate the fact that I need to confess.

Day two ends. I feel like a whipped puppy hiding in a corner. For two days, I’ve not had the courage to even lift my eyes towards heaven.

Day Three of My Scrupulous Confession

This is getting long. I’m getting discouraged. And I’m starting to miss my feeling of connection with Jesus. On day three, I’m still cowering, vacillating between anger, self-disappointment, and fear.

I try to think of the promises of God’s Word. Things like, “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). But my mind squashes every verse I call to remembrance, insisting on reasons why these verses can’t possibly apply to me.

I know it’s not true. I’ve encouraged others not to fall for OCD’s exclusion tactic, imagining that the promises of God apply to everyone else except ourselves. But when I’m in my own trenches, it takes incredible effort to manage myself properly.

I don’t engage with my twisty-turny thoughts too long. I decide to put it on ice and come back later.

Day Four of My Scrupulous Confession

Ok, this is taking me a really long time. And I still haven’t even gone to my knees to confess!

I don’t want to do this all OCD-like. I don’t get on my knees or make any elaborate, ritualistic introductory prayer. In the silence of my mind, I blurt out my thoughts as they come.

God, I’m a mess!

A reply seems to float back earthward, ever so gently. I know.

God, what can I even say? My mind feels like a flat tire. My heart pinches with shame and longing and strange feelings I can’t even describe. I want to cry.

I can’t even make myself sorry, Lord. I’M NOT SORRY. I like what my flesh likes. That’s the honest truth. I don’t want to obey Your Word. In my heart of hearts I just wanna do what I wanna do. And I’m mad that I’m not supposed to.

I sit still for a moment, feeling some relief at getting my honest feelings off my chest. After a few days of avoiding God, I feel a little lighter just communicating with Him again. It feels good to admit that I can’t accomplish what my brain tells me I need to do.

Religious OCD and Scrupulous Confessions

I admit, Lord, that what I did wasn’t right. But that’s about all I can offer you right now.

I lift my empty hands, palms facing up in a gesture of helplessness. I can’t think of a single Bible verse to claim. I can’t even hype myself up to think about Your love and acceptance. I can’t make myself feel contrition.

I sit still for a moment. I get no “impressions” from God, no feelings of a soothing “presence,” and no indicators of God’s thoughts on the matter. All I have is a quiet sense that God knows. He knows I’m a mess. He knows where I’m at.

He just knows.

I don’t actually make a formulaic confession at all. I don’t feel sorry. I don’t achieve any high-pitched conviction that I’ll never stumble in this area again. I leave it at admitting what I did wasn’t right. That is, after all, the meaning of “confession.” I confess that it wasn’t right. And I wordlessly ask God to give me whatever kind of help I ought to receive.

That’s all I can do.

An Analysis of of My Scrupulous Confession

Gaining some days of distance from my confession always gives me more clarity. I can look back and see how OCD it is to think I have to hype up my emotions. I can recognize the way my black-and-white brain tries to terrify me with worst case scenarios like the unpardonable sin. I can see the way I tried to self-punish myself with “hard messages” that would make me feel sorry enough–a compulsive and legalistic approach to confession.

I know I’m going to sin many more times between here and the kingdom of heaven. And I don’t want to allow my OCD to push me into scrupulous confessions over and over again.

I’m not alone in this. As you read this, maybe you are identifying. And when I made a survey of 451 people with religious OCD, only 11% stated that they “never” worry about having committed a mortal sin or the unpardonable sin. To some extent, almost all of us get anxious about our sins and how to deal with them.

Scrupulosity data on the unpardonable sin

And 51.66% of respondents said they “always” or “often” are too intense or obsessive about confessing sins. I already wrote a separate blog post about this statistic, which you can find by clicking here.

Scrupulosity data on confessing sin

Scrupulous confessions are clearly something that trouble people with a sensitive conscience. But thankfully, it isn’t something that needs to plague us forever.

I am learning to do the following:

  1. When I notice my confession becoming obsessive, I try to pause, put the whole thing on ice, and come back later–hopefully at a time when I’m more in my “sound mind.” I know God has the patience for me to navigate my anxiety; there’s no need for me to stop the car in the middle of traffic and make my confession before I continue driving!
  2. I try to avoid extreme, worst case scenario modes of thinking, such as the constant assumption that “that was the last straw” and I’ve now committed the unpardonable sin. After all, how many times in the past have I thought that I committed the unpardonable sin and then I found myself sweetly reconciled to God? If my fears were unfounded so many times in the past, certainly they are unfounded now, and God will continue to have mercy on me.
  3. I try to remind myself that it is “the goodness of God which leads to repentance.” Any thoughts in which I am trying to terrify or self-harm myself into repentance is not from God. I have to ignore these legalistic urges. Even though the idea of a good and loving God might not seem very relatable at the moment, it is true, independent of my faulty feelings.
  4. I try to keep confession very simple. Sometimes it’s just admitting that I’m a mess and I can’t “feel” all the right remorse, but I acknowledge that what I did was wrong. I remember the very short confessions of people like the thief on the cross or the publican of Luke 18 who couldn’t even lift his eyes towards heaven, but smote himself on the breast and said, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Sometimes brevity in our prayers is produced by inner pain and turmoil; in these cases, doesn’t it seem like God would understand that we can’t manage more than a whispered “help?”

Scrupulous confessions can still cause me distress, but I thank God my confessions of today are not what they were five years or a decade ago. And perhaps you can look back at ways your own confession experiences have grown and evolved over time. I hope my experience can somehow help you to make another step or two forward in regaining a healthy perspective on confession.

May God bless you and give you peace,

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  • thank you. I haven’t spoken to God the way I wanted to in over a month. I think it is my hormones causing me to feel crazy feelings that of course with my scruples I depended on for my relationship. My life with God has gone stale. This helped me feel okay and to get back on the horse. Sometimes it’s okay not to feel like you’re sorry. Sometimes it’s okay not to be in my journal. Condemnation be gone! In the name of Jesus.

  • Jaimie, thank you for your insights and personal testimony. I certainly relate. I love my family members endlessly and have always helped and supported them in any way needed. I feel good about my love for family but along with this I struggle with repetitive sin and know how emotional and tiresome it can be to constantly pray for forgiveness. I pray the same prayer daily, sometimes many times a day for help and protection for my loved ones I guess it’s my fear. I know God hears me and has proven this in the past, I just can’t stop asking. Is this a lack of faith or trust on my part?

    • Trusting an invisible God in a very materialistic culture is hard. It’s really a crowning achievement of a lifetime of “wrestling with God” moments to be able to say “I really truly fully trust God.” But with that being said, I would suggest that yes, the core of any and all sin is a lack of trust in God. And our repetitive OCD behaviors are also stemming in a large part from lack of trust in God. But lack of trust is what led Eve to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit, so honestly lack of trust isn’t unique to OCD, it’s an expression of the sinful human condition and is something that Jesus came into the world to overcome on our behalf. That is one of the grandest things about the cross—it not only paid the legal penalty for my sins, but it also provides the psychological basis for me to trust God again, thus healing what went wrong in Eden.

  • I am dealing with this very issue right now. Tired of the never ending battle of sinning, then elaborately praying, feeling depressed, rinse and repeat. Sometimes all I can do is cry and lay there. I needed this more than you know. Thank you so much!

  • Hello, it doesn’t have much to do with the topic, but I wanted to share these verses that have helped me. I hope I am not taking these verses out of context, if so please tell me.
    Genesis 20:6 (this verse helps me know that God can help me keep from sinning)
    Deuteronomy 30:6, 8
    Joshua 10:11 (this one helped me know that what God does is more than what I can do)
    Judges 6:24, 7:9-11
    1 Samuel 12:18-25
    1 Kings 8:58

  • in our faith of islam, even asking once for forgiveness will forgive anything since God is the most forgiving

  • This is so relatable.. Thank you for sharing.
    I have a similar issue, nearly daily. I lose hours of sleep because of it 😩

    I hate the struggle for all of us, but it’s comforting to know there are others.

  • It is so hard to deal with as I know what is true yet nagging doubt that God loves me. Such bad thoughts about God. It makes it hard to go to him. Guilt leads to fear, leads to evil thoughts. But then sometimes out of the blue a blasphemous though pops in, a fiery dart? I see Christians enjoying The Lord.
    Some days a good a lot are bad. I received Jesus many years ago but before I did I had OCD. I know this to be a strong hold.
    May God have mercy.

  • This is nearly exactly to the way i was. Im more less hopeful in a lot of ways because repenting can be monogamous if you feel like you arent making progress. In fact you lose hope slightly thinking…”well im praying. But nothings happening.” so we want fast results. But its all done in the lords time.

    • Thanks for sharing, Andy! For future readers, would I be correct to suggest that you meant “monotonous” and not “monogamous?” 🙂

  • This. Was. Awesome.

    Thank you for writing out so vividly & succinctly what so many of us experience directly. I think it’s profoundly impactful when another person “captures” it, and when we *see* it played out almost like scenes of a movie, you can almost see the OCD highlighted when another “character” is playing it out before your eyes.

    Thank you Jaimie ❤️ your writings, research, and work you pour out in group coaching, blog posts, videos and more are a gift.

    • Thanks, Cindy, I’m so glad it resonated. And glad there are a few others who don’t think I’m *crayyyzy!* 🙂 God is working out all things in our lives and I’m thankful for every reflective moment where I can learn more.

  • Thank you for this! I can absolutely relate! Although in my panic confession/prayer I often sound like:
    “God, um I did something horribly wrong, um, I can’t remember- uh.. well you know what it is- I don’t know if I’m sorry for it or not. I feel in trouble, i um… if you… well… I’m…. Sorry let me start over. Ok! God I confess… the thing.. whatever it is. If I could only remember. Im sorry. This prayer is crap… I…. Um…………..”

    I know that false guilt could be at play here- if I can’t even remember what I did wrong. This article was helpful to me. Thank you!

  • Thank you. As always, you have been a tremendous blessing from God. I look forward to your messages. The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26

  • Thank you for being so honest Jaimie, I really relate to this and like many of your articles, these thoughts will help me going forward

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