God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
SAY what you like about the hotchpotch of people which
constitutes the Church of England, nothing could quite equal the
characters of those whom you will find in the hallowed rehearsal
rooms of a drama school. Within the first week or so of my studies,
I had spent an hour pretending to be a rhinoceros, and another
afternoon communicating "as only a monkey may do". Walking in slow
motion around Covent Garden in rush hour? Check. Learning to dance
like an Elizabethan? Most surely.
Perhaps one of the best things that came out of that period in
my life was coming across a line from Samuel Beckett: "Ever tried.
Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail Better" (Worstward
Failing better, it seems to me, is what we agree to do when we
come to God in confession. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray
in Luke 11, he included the line "Forgive us our sins." This was
not a one-off prayer. Jesus expected that his disciples would need
to ask for forgiveness each time they prayed: despite a desire that
we would be perfect, Jesus does not expect us to be so. He does,
however, expect us to commit ourselves to being honest. He does, I
think, expect us to commit ourselves to failing better.
Our prayer this week comes from Jesus's parable of the Pharisee
and the tax-collector. It is a parable in which confusion reigns:
the public figure, a man who is charitable and right-living, is
exposed as one who is, in fact, none of these things.
The temptation with this story is to leap for comparisons. Yes,
we know this man. We see him in the faces of politicians and
celebrities. But is that our route to confession? Responding this
way serves only to join our voices with the Pharisee in saying:
"God, I thank you that I am not like other men."
Instead, Jesus invites us to pray with the tax-collector. He
invites us to recognise our need for God, regardless of the things
that we have done to make ourselves worthy in his sight.
Importantly, as we think about the parable, Jesus invites us to
come to him, regardless of what people around us have or have not
What happens when we have humbled ourselves and prayed this
prayer? Jesus sends us home "justified before God". When we pray
humbly with the tax-collector, we must also find it in ourselves to
believe that we are justified with him. We need to realise that we
are forgiven, and live accordingly. Praying this prayer is more
than a therapeutic act of saying sorry: it is also an actof
grace-recognition, as we walk out to live exalted by God, instead
of by ourselves.
I am not suggesting that confession is easy, but it is
necessary. It is not something that we see modelled often, but if
we have the courage to run against a culture of covering mistakes
and shifting blame, then the effect on those around us can be
greater than we imagine.
The world sees us differently when we get to our knees. In
confession, and in the freedom that it brings, let's decide,
wholeheartedly and with the help of God, to "Try again. Fail
Katy Holbird is a television producer, who blogs at