03/06/2012 09:55 am ET Updated May 06, 2012

Art of Confession: An Adult Examination of our Lives

Those of us who come from religious traditions that ask us to periodically measure our behavior against a set of rules or mandates (like the Ten Commandments) can well remember the "laundry list" school of confession. Did I disobey my parents? How many times? Did I steal? How much?

We are now adults. We have lived enough of our lives to keep small infractions in perspective, knowing that to keep meticulous account of every little lie or selfishness is not really living consciously, but rather, neurotically. What we seek to know are the habits, tendencies, actions, reactions, and inactions that make our lives and our relationships whole or hollow, life-giving or moribund.

The idea is not to go through this examination of our lives in its entirety at any one time. Rather, start anywhere and ponder the question as long as it is beneficial in examining yourself,
your motives, and the results.

Daily Life
Have I
• Given my best effort to the opportunities offered me?
• Been awake to the many blessings I have received?
• Known when anger was justified and when it was not?
• Spoken up when I should have; listened when needed?
• Looked upon others as objects to exploit?
• Stood with people who needed my support?

Have I
• Used my talents to their highest calling?
• Seen possibilities in even the simplest tasks?
• Been a good team player?
• Settled for mediocrity?
• Betrayed myself to get ahead?
• Put work ahead of family and friends?

Have I
• Looked beyond immediate goals or accomplishments to what is truly important in life?
• Been able to see the value in my failures?
• Sought good not only for myself, but for others?
• Acted on physical desire, the pleasure of the moment, regardless of consequences?
• Envied the success of others?
• Allowed ambition to rule my life?

Inner Life
Have I
• Taken time to reflect on my life?
• Listened to voices in my life that I know to be trustworthy?
• Been able to assess which influences are good for me?
• Been honest with myself when faced with tough decisions?

Physical Well-Being
Have I
• Eaten healthy food?
• Exercised?
• Been reasonable about my intake of alcohol?
• Stopped those habits I know are harmful to my body?
• Made my body an obsession?
• Dressed in a way that honored my body?
• Treated my sexuality with respect?
• Treated others as sexual objects?

Have I
• Given myself freely to those dear to me?
• Used my love as a bargaining chip, to get my way?
• Tried to love the unlovable people in my life?
• Loved only because I wanted to be loved in return?
• Mistaken my selfish jealousy for honest love?

Personal Integrity
Have I
• Betrayed trust or those who have trusted in me?
• Tried to rationalize my way out of difficult decisions?
• Overlooked minor but consistent breaches of honesty?
• Cheated or lied when I knew I could get away with it?
• Made excuses for my poor behavior instead of changing it?

Have I
• Been a good friend?
• Reached out to friends when they needed me?
• Worked to deepen healthy relationships?
• Worked to end relationships I know are unhealthy for me?
• Made it difficult for others to love me?
• Looked down on or ignored people different from me?
• Made commitments casually, knowing I would break them?
• Honored my commitment as wife, husband, partner?

Spiritual Life
Have I
• Prayed or meditated recently and regularly?
• Taken time alone?
• Examined my life, my motives?
• Kept myself so busy there is no time to reflect?
• Trusted that God loves and cares for me?

Have I
• Been a good steward of the earth's resources?
• Used only those resources I needed?
• Reused older items that were perfectly good instead of buying new ones?
• Looked about me in wonder at the beauty of creation?

Do I
• Sacrifice core principles to make more money?
• Know the difference between want and need?
• Use money well, being neither a spendthrift nor a miser?
• Make more, or less, than I need for a healthy, balanced life?
• Own my possessions, or do they own me?
• Spend money to fill a void rather than confronting the void?

You will find yourself comforted by those questions whose answers come quickly -- these are not issues in your life. And then there will be a question that will give you pause. So pause. Reflect.

Then think about how you might act differently. This is not meant to be a ledger sheet to catalog your good and bad deeds, hoping to come out with a plus, not minus, balance. It is a way to help you see yourself honestly -- to confess both your virtues and your flaws -- and thereby to be the whole and good person you know you really are.