Litany for Confession

I’m gradually waking up to the understanding that my greatest and most pervasive sin is lack of compassion, which is to say, lack of love. Sometimes it looks like apathy. Sometimes it looks like pride. Sometimes disgust. Sometimes hurried-ness and preoccupation. Sometimes it looks like laziness. Sometimes it looks like blindness. Sometimes it looks like somebody else’s problem.

It’s all the same thing, the same root cause: a lack of compassion in my heart, a seed that fell among thorns (1). There wasn’t enough compassion to move me. There wasn’t enough to get me to DO anything. Because true compassion MOVES; and true compassion DOES.

If I were sitting with you over wine or coffee I could tell you a lot of stories about a lot of missed opportunities. A lot of times I didn’t say hello, didn’t open the door, didn’t call or send a note , didn’t pull over on the side of the road, didn’t rifle my purse for cash to put in a cup, didn’t want to get up early or stay up late, didn’t want to give up some luxury, didn’t see whatever pain was right under my nose. Didn’t go, didn’t do, didn’t move. A lot. More than I want to think about.

I prayed for a friend the other day who has a long-standing health issue and I felt the compassion of God toward her. She expressed frustration with this. Why should she care if God has compassion toward her if it leaves her in pain all the time? What good does God’s compassion do if she’s not healed of her affliction? I resonate with her frustration--that’s hard.

But how about if I turn that mirror on myself: what does my compassion do? Does it feed hungry people? Does it lament alongside folks who are grieving? Does it care for orphans and lonely folks? Does it speak encouraging words? Does it make peace? Does it foster equality and work for justice? Does it grow legs and walk around? Do I embody it?

Usually not. And sometimes it smacks me in the face, but mostly I get away with it.

Note: I have written this litany in first person because it is my personal prayer. If you want to pray it too, go ahead. It could easily be adapted for congregational use by changing “I” and “my” to “we” and “our."

I have sinned against you in thought, and word, and deed;
In things I have done,
But mostly in things I have left undone.
I have not loved you with my whole heart.
I have not loved my neighbor as I love myself (2).

Half the time, I haven’t even realized my neighbor was there.

You were thirsty and I didn’t give you a drink.
You were naked and I didn’t clothe you (3).

I have gone around blind,

I have blamed it on
Family responsibilities
Lack of time
Not my problem
My smallness (4).
Fear of doing it wrong.

If compassion is a seed, then I am the thorny soil (5).

Forgive me, Oh God,
According to your mercy.
According to your great compassion
Blot out all my iniquity (6).  

I have nothing to offer you
Except a broken and contrite heart (7).
Remake my heart out of love,
And let love be the heart of my life.


  1. Parable of the sower, Matthew 13

  2. This language is adapted from the Prayer of Confession from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.

  3. Matthew 25:35,36

  4. Desmond Tutu said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

  5. See item (1)

  6. Psalm 51:9

  7. Psalm 51:17