How I’m teaching about confession with the Sheep Game

My faith formation class — mostly eight-year-olds — has watched this amazing video several times.

It’s short, and shows a man rummaging around in a hole in the deep grass. He grasps something and starts to pull, and we eventually see legs, and then realize that it’s an entire, full-grown sheep who’s somehow got himself buried. The man pulls steadily and the sheep emerges, very much like in a birth. The sheep shakes himself, looking confused and relieved, and gallops away while the men chuckle.

Our class is getting closer to the big day: Their first confession. They won’t receive their First Communion until next year, so I had the task of teaching them to understand sin and repentance and forgiveness, without overwhelming them with guilt and self-accusation. They’re learning what their sacramental relationship is with God, and I would hate to frame it as some kind of adversarial trial. That’s something I’m still unlearning, myself.

So I’ve been trying to lay a lot of the emotional framework for confession, before we really dig into the logistical part of it. We talk a lot about how the whole story of salvation is how much God wants to be with us, and how he keeps coming up with plans to save us from all the problems we get ourselves into. I want very much to teach confession as a place we want to go when we need help, rather than a place we have to go when we’re in disgrace.

One class, I showed them the sheep video without any introduction. We watched it twice, and I asked them to talk about what the sheep was like. They decided he was pretty silly, and confused, and that he needed help, and he was probably scared, and it was dark and awful in the hole, and he wouldn’t be able to get out by himself. And maybe it wasn’t the first time he had fallen down in there, either, and he might even do it again.

Then we talked about the man who saved him. They thought he was Spanish, first of all. Ha! Okay, what else? He was strong, and he cared about the sheep, and he knew what to do, and he wasn’t going to give up until he got the sheep out. And he felt sorry for the sheep (“Pobrecito!” he says at one point), and he liked the sheep, and didn’t want it to get hurt. And he liked seeing it come out of the hole (“El milagro de la vida!” one of the men exclaims.) It was his job to take care of that sheep. That was why he was there.

Then I told them we are like the sheep, and Jesus is like the man who pulls the sheep out. This was a little confusing for them at first, but kids this age are quite capable of understanding analogies with some help.

We talked about different kinds of things we can do that make us fall into a hole. Calling someone a mean name. Not doing what our moms tell us to do. STABBING SOMEONE. (They liked that one.) Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

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9 thoughts on “How I’m teaching about confession with the Sheep Game”

  1. “I want very much to teach confession as a place we want to go when we need help, rather than a place we have to go when we’re in disgrace.”

    Yeah, now if only all priests understood this. I’ve been reamed out to the point of tears many times in confession.

    1. Wow Jordan! Why would you take that from a priest???? Next time that happens, tell him to save his wrath for the pedophile priests. I’m serious. What you’ve experienced in the confessional is just another abuse of power enabled by clericalism. You deserve better.

      1. Thanks For your support, Philly area.
        I think a lot of them don’t realize just how difficult and painful it can be to talk about certain things (let alone in the confessional) because they have no relevant experience. Once a group of Dominicans were telling me about a test of factual information that they have to take to be allowed to hear confessions. I suggested there should also be a test of emotional intelligence. But if I press the point to hard I just end up pigeonholing myself as the token female 😕

  2. I really enjoyed this- I am a hands on teacher also- giving children a shared experience goes beyond just the lesson- it is a shared moment in time that they can go back to as a community of learners. Excellent- made my morning reading this. We all need to get out of holes with help from God and our family of friends.

  3. Excellent! An interactive non-threatening way to teach the children to welcome the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

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