Sacrament of Confirmation
Lutherans love a good ceremony. Nothing splashy, of course. We don’t like to show off. But when it’s hard to talk about spiritual matters and deep emotions, it’s good to stop, say some important words together, and admit that life is full of big moments. We baptize, take communion, get married, get buried…and we confirm.
If you didn’t grow up in a denomination that celebrates Confirmation, you might not understand its significance. Even if you did grow up Catholic, Lutheran, or Anglican, there’s a good chance it slipped by you. In my church, Confirmation was an important step to adulthood and a way to make sure the reckless youth did more than have lock-ins and play stupid games and run amok in the basement. Being a community of wise farmers, my church family wanted to plant seeds. They wanted to give us tools that could help us weather the inevitable storms.
For me as a pimply middle schooler with enormous glasses, Confirmation meant almost two years of weekly classes, filling in blanks with correct answers (usually with the words “Jesus” or “love”), Lutheran sleep-away camp, and standing in front of my church wearing a ridiculous white robe. I memorized the right responses and cracked jokes incessantly to make church history bearable. To be fair, the jokes often wrote themselves. (The Diet of Worms? That was a real thing?) I didn’t understand what was happening. I simply stood up front, passed the test, and moved on.
My view has changed. Life has broken me open. I can finally see the beautiful hope that fueled my Confirmation. Planting seeds of spiritual truth. Securing gifts for me that I wasn’t ready to receive. Carving out time and forcing me to stop and think about what I believed and why. I didn’t appreciate the process at the time, although I had a blast with my fellow Luther Leaguers. (Yes. That’s a real word.) Later, when I dove into fundamentalist churches, I looked back disdainfully at cookie-cutter answers and meaningless ceremonies. Or so I thought. For a time, I turned my back on those gifts.
But they weren’t lost.
Later, when I was ready, the gifts were still waiting. Kernels of truth split open and began to sprout. Older me rediscovered ideas from Confirmation class. All Christians are holy and can read and understand God’s word for themselves. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit live in community, and love each other deeply as a model for how we can love. The Holy Spirit gives us power to face huge challenges, not by making life easy, but by working in us when we’re broken.
Of course there were some ideas that fell apart for me. I put them down and walked away for good. But even when that happened, I realized I could respect and love people who still held those beliefs. I could admire the diligence of theologians and thinkers who’d wrestled with those questions for centuries. I finally understood they were driven not by the need to be right, but the belief that truth is real and it matters and it’s worth pursuing.
Middle school me set aside the gifts of my confirmation, but I’m glad I didn’t destroy them. Some ideas from our religious past need to be abandoned. Some experiences from our past have left scars. But some seeds are ready for us now.
In every past, there are bits of goodness that can strengthen and teach us if we let them. Scripture verses might be reclaimed. Fill-in-the-blank answers might become far more meaningful than a set of religious Mad Libs. Forgotten truths might speak into our pain. People who seemed rigid or inscrutable or mean might warm and soften in our minds. We might realize there was far more to their story than we knew.
Not always. But sometimes.
I had a few different pastors during my Confirmation classes. Near the end, Pastor Carol was given the thankless task of guiding our young Lutheran souls. She was divorced and a woman in a time when those qualities were rare in the Lutheran pastorate. She asked us hard questions and pushed fearlessly into uncomfortable topics that we’d rather avoid. She was not someone I understood or appreciated.
At my Confirmation, she gave me a book called Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC by Frederick Buechner. I was unimpressed. It seemed like just another boring religious book. I shoved it on a bottom shelf and promptly forgot it.
A few years ago, it reappeared. Out of curiosity, I skimmed a few pages, and I was hooked. It was funny. It was wise. It echoed my fears about God as well as my outrageous hopes for what I hoped was true of him. It became another foundational block as I rebuilt my faith from scratch.
What gifts were you given before you were ready? What seeds were planted that could now spring to life with a little sunlight? When we look at our religious histories we can recite lists of wrongs and easily point to all the things we don’t want to be. Those feelings are valid. But God was working in those faith communities, in people around you. He was giving you gifts, even if you weren’t ready for them.
What seeds were planted that might make you stronger and more like Christ?
What did your own confirmation instill in you that can bring you closer to God today?
Don’t be afraid to sift through what you learned and look for some beautiful seeds.
Bryan Holmes has no favorite sports team, but many favorite people, especially his wife Laura, and their suddenly grown daughters Lily and Claire. By day he herds third graders, and by night he solves the world’s problems in coffee shops, tackles his perpetual pile of half-read books, looks for the best in people and leads the Formation Team. He’s learning to speak GIF.