As I recently discovered, evil always works through lies. I regularly confess my sins to God in private prayer, but when my confession remains within the safety of my own internal thoughts, it is fertile ground for lies to run wild. Too often my silent confessions to God tend toward mental meandering, bringing up only certain sins that are at the forefront of my mind, skipping over some of the older ones that lurk comfortably in the shadows. Too often the little stories I tell myself -- "I'll pay for it later" -- sound pretty good when they're fleeting thoughts in the shelter of my head, safe from the scrutiny of another human being.I've sometimes found that the thought of having to confess a sin out loud is enough to deter me from committing it.
But Confession drags my thoughts out of the shadows and forces me to examine my sins in the full light of day. Having a set place and time where I must account for all my sins since the last Confession remedies my all-too-convenient tendency to "forget" certain things. Having to codify my thoughts into spoken words brings clarity to all those amorphous ideas that ebb and flow in my brain. Having to go over my sins with another human being -- to be questioned about my actions by someone whose voice is much less easy to ignore than the still, small voice of God -- brings conviction and humility in a way that private prayer cannot for someone as spiritually immature as I am.
On a related note, a few months back I had almost the same experience as Jen describes: I was unloading groceries from my cart into my van when I discovered that a tube of chapstick has been overlooked under a grocery circular while I was checking out. The kids were in the car fighting, the baby was crying, and I didn't feel that I could leave them alone while I ran back in to pay. It took me two weeks to make restitution, and oddly enough, during that time the chapstick was lost. I didn't find it again until after I'd paid for it. Served me right.