Confession Is Such a Churchy Word

When the Holy Spirit takes an ax to our metaphorical trees of emotional baggage and sin.

Cali Yee / 3.14.23

Maybe I don’t want to learn the truth.

Ted, the truth will set you free, but first it’ll piss you off.

In the second season of Ted Lasso, the audience discovers the flaws and wounds of their most beloved characters. The formally humble and kind Nate the Great becomes prideful and resentful. The once exuberant and optimistic Coach Lasso becomes sullen and discouraged. We see it all play out in what feels like real-time: Nate’s anger toward Ted slowly grows and festers until the final episode and Ted’s mental health struggles are gradually revealed during his meetings with the team’s psychologist, Sharon Fieldstone. And although the second season ends with its cherished characters going in two different directions (and on opposing teams), it ends with them participating in the same thing: confession.

Granted, the results of their confessions are very different. After divulging both his grief/anger over his father’s suicide and his ongoing struggles with anxiety, Ted finds hard-won freedom. Nate confesses his hatred of Ted, but his insecurities have tangled and trapped him in the net of his own resentment. Perhaps Nate fails to find relief because his confession is not altogether truthful. Though he has some reason to be upset at Ted, deep down Nate continues to avoid the fractured relationship with his own father. His confession isn’t so much admission as it is deflection from what is really going on.

Confession is such a churchy word. But a word that encompasses something, perhaps, bigger. Like a drop of pretenses. Not needing to keep up appearances. A confrontation against shame and anger. A refuge from despair and cynicism. A friend.

The grim truth can really piss us off. Disclosing pain, shame, or sin can feel weird, unnerving, or arduous. Oftentimes, it’s the last and only thing left to do and confession almost spontaneously arrives, unbidden. I like to think of those moments as the Holy Spirit taking an ax to my metaphorical tree of emotional baggage and sin: the leaves are my withering patience, the branches my jagged cynicism of the world, the tree trunk my affinity for curse words (my bark is worse than my bite, pun intended), and the roots? my incessant need to be special. The whole tree comes crashing down and all that’s left is a humbled stump.

The stump, the clearing of our metaphorical forests of limitations, opens us up to the possibility of being known and loved.


For Kuang Lee, “clearing” wasn’t like my silly tree metaphor, it was an actual thing that people took part in — and at a comedy club no less. He had just been fired from his job the day before, an occupation that consumed much of his identity and was the reason for much of his self-confidence. The situation left him feeling dejected and anxious (not at all helped by his family’s long history of depression). One phone call to his agent and one complimentary ticket to a stand-up comedy class later, Lee was standing in a room filled with clown paraphernalia at Los Angeles’s infamous Clown Palace.

Sit over here. We’re clearing now.”


“Just sit, Kuanmmg.”

One woman got up and simply shouted hoarsely into the mic for a minute, with no actual jokes. Or words. There were some funny folks who got up onstage, but Cash shouted out to them, “You don’t need to be funny! This is just clearing!” […]

For the next couple of hours, I got to understand what “clearing” was. It was getting onstage and just getting shit off of your chest. As the class cleared, I witnessed the greatest assortment of weirdos I’ve ever encountered. Hollywood burnouts, fringe folks, individuals with serious mental health problems. They were all here at the Clown Palace.

All Kuang Lee wanted to do was bolt out of there. “This wasn’t my tribe. I came from a good upbringing. I had Hollywood options,” he lied to himself.

Then Cash himself went up to clear. He told us about how he self-destructed a promising comedy career to end up here, teaching comedy at the Clown Palace. “Here, I’m among my people, my fellow clowns.” Cash smiled wildly, pointing to the eerie jester statues and paintings throughout his studio. “There’s Jack, Devon, and Ulysses. They’re way better company than club promoters or industry people. They don’t talk!”

What is this foreign notion of “clearing” — this scary, but cathartic vulnerability? Why would we ever want to share our deepest darkest secrets or strangest intrusive thoughts aloud, let alone to people who are complete strangers?

The unspoken (ha) rule of the comedy club is that the audience is just supposed to listen. It’s what makes “clearing” in this palace of clowns work so well. There is no one trying to fill the silence, no one critiquing their words, no one playing the devil’s advocate or attempting at solving their problems. There’s just one person talking and the rest are simply listening or laughing along with them (a weird form of absolution in its own right).

A non-judgmental listening ear is essential to (good) confession because by revealing the not-so-pretty parts of ourselves we are left feeling susceptible to shame, uncertainty, or perhaps despair. Even the most indifferent and apathetic person can find themselves under some sort of little-l law that makes them question their worth.

Where could my heart find refuge from itself? Where could I go, yet leave myself behind? Was there any place where I should not be a prey to myself? None. (Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, 1.7)

We are in need of an empathetic ear that will listen to whatever we can’t seem to find refuge from — our exhaustion, our mistakes, our anger, our regrets, and our clownish behavior. The only words to give as a response to someone’s admission of their pain and sin are the words of forgiveness spoken in patient love. To go through life unreflectively or without confession is to miss out on experiencing the refuge of the unflinching mercy of a God who just wants to listen to you, offer forgiveness, and maybe even have a laugh with you.

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