If you have ever had a splinter, you will know exactly what I'm talking about.
Imagine having a bad, crooked splinter stuck in your skin, so that you couldn't move, couldn't do anything without feeling it. Imagine if it were impinging on a nerve, so that it was either numb or intensely painful all the time.
Sometimes I don't even realize it's a splinter.
If you can, try to imagine that feeling growing and growing, so that it's not just in one finger but spreading throughout your body in waves of numbness and pain. Then imagine that it's not a physical pain, but an emotional one, alternating through waves of numbness and pain and fear and feeling empty and dead inside. Sometimes emotional pain is far more excruciating than any physical pain I've had. You've probably been there.
But if you followed the first part of the metaphor, you probably also know the feeling of finally gripping the splinter with tweezers and extricating it. It hurts, but then the skin relaxes back where the splinter was. The whole limb seems to breathe a deep sigh of relief, feeling the blessed absence of the horrid sharp thing that caused so much pain. Every few minutes you remember where the splinter was and feel such a depth of gratitude that it's finally, finally gone.
It's not always easy to tell a priest how long (or how not-so-long) it's been since my last confession, and then to tell him I did this, and this, and this, and this. But nothing in all the world can replace that deep, quiet peace that remains once the dark, crooked splinter is finally pulled. Much of the time, I'm surprised how much pain that tiny, nasty splinter caused; usually I had blamed the pain on everything in the world but the splinter. But once it is finally out, I have to pause every few minutes and marvel that it's really, truly gone.
Once again, how did I ever live before Confession?