Lies and Confession: The case of the stolen pacifier

January 19, 2011 | 38 comments

This post was originally published on March 25, 2009.

One day last year I was putting grocery bags in the car after an epic store trip, and after I grabbed the last bag something caught my eye in the back of the cart: a $3.75 package of pacifiers. Somehow we made it out of the store without paying for them.

I had all three kids strapped into the car, they were all overtired and on the brink of major meltdowns, the store was crowded with 10+ minute waits to check out, it was already well past dinner time, and some rumbling thunder indicated that it was about to rain. It seemed virtually impossible to go back into that store. But I really needed those pacifiers. My one-year-old lost her other one and wouldn’t sleep without it; they were the main thing I’d gone to the store to get.

I decided that I would take them and pay for them next time I went to the store. There was, of course, no question in my mind that I would pay for them. I’m not a thief. I would never steal anything.

The next time I went to the store, however, I forgot the box for the cashier to scan. The next two times after that my husband went and I didn’t want to trouble him with it. The time after that I was in a huge rush and forgot about the whole thing. The time after that…Well, you get the idea.

As the weeks turned into months, the need to pay for the pacifiers felt less and less urgent. I told myself that I was definitely going to pay for them eventually, but it kept not happening.

An interesting thing happened in my prayer life as well: when I would repent of my sins during prayer, I never mentioned the un-paid-for pacifiers. Because, after all, I was going to pay for them. I just hadn’t gotten around to it. My mind had not categorized that as a sin. I didn’t “steal, ” I just “delayed payment.”

All of this fuzzy thinking suddenly got a whole lot clearer one afternoon, a couple months later, when I was preparing to go to Confession.

I was going over one of those Examination of Conscience aids and when I got to the questions related to the Seventh and Tenth Commandments, the pacifiers immediately came to mind. I imagined articulating to my priest all those excuses that had sounded so good in my head: “Well, Father, I didn’t steal anything. Although I do have these pacifiers at my house that were not paid for. But they’re just ‘on loan, ‘ because I’m going to pay for them!”

He would undoubtedly ask me how long ago I took these pacifiers from the store. And when I told him that it had been more than three months, it would suddenly be crystal clear what was going on: I had stolen them, and I was lying to myself about it.

It is an uncomfortable moment when the lies you tell yourself to excuse your sins are dragged out into the light and exposed for what they are. Knowing that I would have to explain my actions to another human being made me realize the uncomfortable truth: I had stolen. And, given the fact that three months had already passed without me making it right, it is unlikely that I would have ever remedied my actions, all the while telling myself that I hadn’t done anything wrong because one day I would make it right.

The discomfort of this newfound awareness of my sin motivated me to break through the morass of my laziness and lies and get down to the store to give them my $3.75.

This is why I love Confession; this is why I need Confession.

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.

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.

And, as I’ve said before, while the process of verbalizing my sins might be uncomfortable, being able to hear the words of God’s forgiveness that the priest says on behalf of Christ helps me know and feel God’s mercy. After seeing the power of Confession in my own life — in the case of the pacifier and so many others like it — I don’t need any theological book to know that this Sacrament is a gift from God.



  1. Leah @ Unequally Yoked

    Excellent piece, Jen. It’s so much easier to lie to ourselves than to lie to another person.

    • Jason Morrow

      The Sacrament of Penance is a major reason why I converted to Catholicism. It is also why I started an apostolate dedicated to evangelizing it call The Penance Project. You can learn more about the project here:

  2. Colleen

    I loved reading this. It’s so easy to rationalize and trivialize our sins away. Thank God for the gift of mercy!!

  3. Margo

    I totally relate to what you’ve said. In fact, I have found myself in that same predicament from time to time. I’ve never deliberately forgotten to confess certain sins in Confession, but I have felt awful afterward when it occurred to me that I left something out!

    The other day in Confession I started to tell the priest about the times when I unintentionally left out whole sins but he cut me off and reminded me that everything from the past is forgiven and over with. He told me that the moment I walked into the Confessional my sins were already forgiven. He was concerned that my guilt over sins that were already confessed by “accident” would plague me in a way that would be spiritually harmful and keep me from a peaceful state of mind and heart, which is exactly what the evil one wants.

    I guess this is sort of different than what you are talking about, but it’s still connected in one way or another. Thanks for this excellent post!

    • Lizzie

      I’m always reminded of the devil’s way of tempting us to scrupulousness. A priest I went to confession with years ago said that the most important thing is humbly asking the Holy Spirit to place on your heart what to confess. Confess these sins – it may only be 1 root one – and then say ‘for these and all my sins, I am truly sorry’.

      I read a great story the other day:

      “One old woman told her parish priest about the wonderful visions that she was having. But the priest, a hard case, demanded some kind of proof.

      “The next time God appears to you”, he said, “Ask him to tell you about my sins, which are known only to him, and then I might just believe you.”

      The old woman returned some time later, and the priest asked her if God had managed to appear to her in a vision again. She said he had.

      “Did you ask God to tell you about my sins?” “I most certainly did”, the old woman replied. “And what did God reveal to you?” the priest asked.

      The old woman looked the priest straight in the eye, and she answered; “God said, tell your priest I have completely forgotten all his sins.'”

      I spoke to my parish priest about this very issue when I was at Confession last weekend and asked how scrupulous should I be? He suggested that desiring a habit of confession was so pleasing to God and that always asking the Holy Spirit for guidance was best. He said that sometimes, there may not be anything concrete to confess but that asking for the grace and healing of the sacrament is enough coupled with our sorrow for anything that has offended God.

      I’m not 100% sure about this one and am reflecting on whether this is right – surely there’s always SOMETHING to confess??? I’m not a saint yet..!!!

    • Maggie Dee

      That is exactly how I feel when I walk into Confession, completely and totally loved. I feel forgiven before I even open my mouth. It makes me not want to leave.

      Converting to the Catholic faith last Easter has been such an amazing blessing. And confession (my biggest hang-up about converting) has been the biggest one of all. The sacrament takes away the accuser’s power to constantly bring up my past sins. They are gone like dust in the wind. It is so liberating to be so loved!

  4. Julie Culshaw

    A little while ago, I found myself putting groceries in the car and noticed a barette hair clip in the cart that hadn’t been scanned. Funny thing was that it was reading this post last year that made me go back in and pay for it. So Jen, thanks, your confession had a good effect on me!

  5. Sarah

    We once walked out of IKEA without paying for a major, $100 item (don’t ask me how it happened!). I had NO idea what had happened until months later when I was cleaning out my wallet and found the recipt (which I usually just throw out without looking at). But this time I actually looked at what I had bought, and figured out I hadn’t paid for this shelf. Funny how the Lord brings these things to your attention. In laughing about it with a friend/spiritual advisor, he said “$100 is not worth your immortal soul – good idea to go back and pay for it”.

    When I went back to pay for it (and it was a considerable distance to go back to the store) the guy at the returns desk was so dumbfounded about what I was doing that he gave me 25% off the purchase.

    • Elizaebeth@GoodnessAdded

      Sarah, I had a similar experience at Trader Joes. The checker was “So, you came back? No one comes back.” Kind of made me sad. He gave me 20% off for being honest.

      • Jessica

        I just had something similar happen the other day. I was purchasing a dress for my daughter and it has a second sweater piece. They were supposed to be scanned separately but only the sweater got scanned. When I went back the next day to pay, the CS rep was shocked. And it turned out the the dress already cost 50% less than the tag said. She thought that was a pretty cool blessing.

  6. Theresa in Alberta


  7. Dana Laviano

    Thank you for this reminder of the need for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Since beginning to go regularly to confession, I notice more readily when I sin, but I still allow the “spiders” (a la St. Francis de Sales) to infiltrate and cause all sorts of “fuzzy thinking.” Just knowing, sometimes, that I will have to tell a priest a sin if I do it, will help me just sidestep committing it. (Of course, I do then confess having considered it in the first place!)

  8. Siddhartha Joshi

    This is a very well written post…and so true too!

  9. priest's wife

    Confession is also a big reason why my family converted when I was 12

  10. Craig

    Oh how sin does block our relationship with Our Lord – even the little tiny venials. And if just this small pacifier thing did its work – how much more ALL of my sin, ALL of our sin.

    I’m not Catholic, so I don’t go to confession. But as with so much of the Catholic faith I can see why this Sacrament was instituted, and when done with a repentant heart, one like yours, is so, so precious, and holy, and meaningful.

    Thank you for this today Jennifer, and God Bless and Keep you and yours.

    • Theresa in Alberta

      what is stopping you from becoming Catholic? 😉

  11. Jen G

    I am somewhat amazed to see this post today. Just last night, I left the grocery store and later realized that I had forgotten to pay for a 99 cent cup of coffee. I had it in my hand as I checked out, and while waiting in line I admonished myself not to forget it. But, the cashier didn’t notice it and in the usual busy-ness of checking out, I completely forgot about it. Like you, I told myself I would pay for it “next time”. I’m going to go back tomorrow and pay for it before I can trivialize it too much in my own mind.

    Thank you, Lord for keeping me honest!

  12. Danya Marvin

    Knowing that I will go to confession and WILL confess my sins, has kept me from doing LOTS of things I otherwise would have. For me – it’s preventative medicine.

    • Paula H.

      Can a get a super Amen there?

  13. Michelle

    Interesting that you posted this today. This past Saturday, I was buying vitamins and supplements with the help of my 4 year old. My son had put the 2 containers he’d carried for me up on the counter to be paid for. Somehow the pharmacist did not see those two bottles and I hadn’t realized. I thought it was odd that the bag I’d been given wasn’t big enough to hold those 2 additional containers. My son and I left as I had to go to the restroom really bad. On my way to the restroom, I kept thinking that those 2 containers (totally $40 plus tax) weren’t worth a trip to confession so I’d better check the receipt. I did check in the restroom and sure enough those bottles weren’t listed. So, back we went. The pharmacist thanked me for being honest (no discount for me though!). I was glad I had been honest and that my kids (the other 3 were in the car w/my husband) permitted me the opportunity to be honest. While reading your post, I remember that one other time I was not able to go back to pay for my box of hair color that had been missed in the cart. Like your situation, it was late, busy at the store, the kids were hungry and in need of fresh diapers, everyone was tired, etc, etc, etc. I did not go back and in fact I was able to justify in my mind because I’d been overcharged on other items in the past, I usually do go back to “be honest” but this time I was unable, etc. Now I guess I’m going to have to confess this forgotten sin. Dangit! : )

    • Michelle

      To clarify:
      When I said that $40 worth of vitamins wasn’t worth a trip to confession, what I should have said was something like – I want to check on that so I don’t end up having to confess it. It certainly would be worthy of confessing but I prefer to head it off before it gets that far!

  14. Andie

    Very timely post Jennifer because we will be celebrating First Reconciliation in our Church over the next couple of weeks. I just gave a retreat to the second graders this past Saturday. On Sunday morning one of the parents came to me and said that her twin daughters came home from the retreat and were talking about it and about the sacrament. It led to a family discussion and then her fourth grade son asked her to take him to reconciliation. This mom had tears in her eyes when she was telling me this. We arranged for her son to go before Mass. It was beautiful and so powerful. This young boy asked to go….beautiful.

  15. DorkusAmongUs

    Yes, I have done this. Had my three in meltdown mode leaving a major chain store. Had two items on lower part of basket. I was packing up the crying, squirming children in the car and noticed the items. I bothered a customer walking passed, into the store, if she would kindly return these for me as I hadn’t paid. Hated to put it upon a total stranger, and she looked none too pleased about it. And I knew I took a risk of her being honest and helpful.

    It bothered me so much, that I called Customer Service when I got home and asked if a lady had brought in items. The CS lady said Yes,and That was so nice of you to do that!

    I was very thankful — Pheww… it was really uncomfortable til I made that phone call. So, I give thanks to that nice lady who helped me out!

    • John Tyner

      Another one. Why do people feel so utterly guilty about their sins? Offer them up to Jesus and be joyful of His sacrifice. Did it ever occur that the cashier’s discrepancy is the only fault with this crap? Yall aren’t thieves. Get over it.

  16. Joy

    Great post, Jennifer!! It’s interesting reading your blog because I’m not a Catholic, (though I am a follower of Christ) but I find so much here that is completely applicable to my own faith walk. I remember talking with a very close Catholic friend of mine where she was explaining why Confession was important, and I thought, Huh! That actually sounds like something I could use, too!
    It’s always interesting how God “speaks” to our hearts. It’s not always sweet and comforting, is it? So often I find that it reveals such ugliness in me.

  17. John Tyner

    Remember Jesus paid WAY more than was due for the sins of the entire world? Those pacifiers were yours all along. You didn’t steal a damn thing. You did however pridefully whip yourself for what seems like a very long time over a pack of pacifiers. Might as well make a scourge out of some nails and barbed wire and walk down the street flagellating yourself while pulling your hair out and crying for damnation? Try and understand that by doing this, you may actually push Jesus out of your heart for momentary periods of time – God forbid permanently? What if you did this with every little sin in your life? Remember that Saul persecuted and murdered Christians by the dozen and even he wasn’t held accountable once he accepted Christ. I typed all of this because I’m concerned about this oh-so-common Catholic mentality of trying to earn points with God. There is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and nothing you can do to make God love you less. 😀 Is this not true?

  18. John Tyner

    And I’m sorry for my language there but my message to you really is important. Lighten up. I’ve done things in my life that would make you PUKE. According to your bio, you are new to Christianity just like I am, and you’re very susceptible to this kind of deception early on – and keep in mind I’m ignoring the doey-eyed responses from your fan club on here. Despite being Catholic myself, I’ve come to learn that most of my other fellow Catholics are even more crazy than I am. So really, use the email address I’ve included here and tell me something REALLY bad you did, because you’re no thief, and you’re not much of a liar either..

    • Dennis

      John, please try to be more charitable in your posts.

      Any knowledgeable Catholic knows that confession is not about ‘earning points with God’, but about re-establishing the relationship with Him.

      Both virtue and vice are reinforced by habit, and Jennifer’s post is about the danger of reinforcing a ‘blah’ attitude about doing things justly. She may not have committed a mortal sin since it was not her intention to avoid paying for the pacifiers, but she realized that out of justice, she should pay for them. Her excuses were keeping her from fulfilling that justice. This is not ‘prideful whipping,’ but being aware of the tactics the devil uses to help us develop attitudes that are fertile grounds for more sinning.

      You asked the question, “There is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and nothing you can do to make God love you less. Is that not true?” That may be true, but you seem to be ignoring the fact that there are things we can do that aid US in loving GOD more or less. Your comment to ‘lighten up’ indicates you may be in danger of falling prey to the “faith alone” heresy by thinking that simply because you believe Jesus died for you, you do not have to worry about anything because He will always love you. We should be joyful for His sacrifice, but that does not mean we cannot take sin seriously.

      • Jessica

        Very, very well said, Dennis. Thank you (and of course, thank you, Jen, for a really fantastic post.)

        It is a dangerous thing to believe, “Eh, God knows I’m a good person, so I don’t have to follow His law.” Indeed, it is why there are so many “cafeteria Catholics,” and why so many misunderstand our teachings – because they see those who claim to be Catholic yet ignore the Truth of their own faith!

        We ALL need His mercy. Let us never be half-hearted in our quest to take up our crosses and seek His Face.

        • John Tyner

          Not nearly as scathing as I expected. I was grumpy that night.
          This is a good reminder of why I continue to attend Catholic church while avoiding the other crazy denominations.

  19. Cathy

    So well written! Powerful, true. Thank you!

  20. RI

    Who are you and what are u doing writing about my life?
    LOL 🙂

  21. lethargic

    Oh, yes, this is exactly why the protestant idea of confessing your sins only to God is baloney. I am allowed to say that because I used to be protestant. Since I became Catholic and have the advantage of Confession, it has become so very clear how protestants so often are fooling themselves — lying to themselves, excusing themselves, rationalizing to themselves … We Catholics have the blessing of the discipline of being straight — whether that means being more clear about the sins we do commit or being reminded of the “devil’s virtue” of scrupulosity. Thank you, God and Mother Church.

  22. Siddhartha Joshi

    Hey guys let’s not fight over this…we are all allowed to have our own views. Its only fair to let others have their own beliefs, even if we don’t believe in it. Nobody is a fool, and lets not call anyone that here…

    I like the sincerity of what’s written here, and lets just leave it there…

  23. dianne

    Thanks for this sweet, honest post. I love the thought that this sacrament is a gift from God, for us.

  24. Kate

    This has happened to me twice with 99 cent-ish items, and both times, I very nearly started crying at the thought of unbuckling 4 kids and dragging them back into the store. I did it, but it was HARD!!!

    Confession totally rocks!!!!! I like it lots. 🙂

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