Obviously you get out of Confession what you put into it. In my latter example, I wasn't getting much out of the experience, and I doubt highly that Jesus was thrilled with my half-baked effort.
So how does one become better at Confession, anyway?
For me, I went to a source that seems to have usurped Confession as his life's mission - Fr. Z.
You folks have heard me prattle on and on about him in the past. I can't help it. I really have learned so much from following his blog. He talks about Confession - a lot - so I knew that a good breeding ground for knowledge would be his archives.
The most helpful thing for me has been Father Z's insistence on completing a thorough examination of conscience using one (or more) "checklists." He even said if you're in a total pickle and don't have access to a specific list, run through the 10 Commandments in your mind.
I've found that the easiest way for me to complete a thorough exam is to list all 10 Commandments and then the 7 Deadly Sins. And yes, I write them all out with my matching offenses underneath the various categories. I feel like those cover just about every dirty little deed I could possibly do, so taking inventory with those as my guide ensures I don't miss anything. The most helpful, in my opinion, are those 7 deadly sins, though.
In compiling this guide for myself, I realized I needed to delve into a few that I hadn't really thought about before. Gluttony, for example.
Oh, Lord... gluttony.
I admit it. I had no idea that gluttony could be considered a mortal sin. Looking it up in the Catechism, though, I found that gluttony is most certainly a mortal sin (and with good reason). And oh, how gluttonous I am!!!
Wrath, as well. I always assumed wrath looked like this:
You see, I always thought mortal sin was relegated to things like murder, torture and stealing stuff from poor people. Eating a box of popsicles, reactionary punishments and even withholding forgiveness to satiate prideful arrogance never entered the realm of mortal sin thought because I simply didn't think of them as mortally sinful. In light of Church teaching, however, I really have come away with a much better understanding of these particular "dirty deeds" and as a result, I've been able to work on reigning them in.
So yes. Mortal sin is definitely something that I've been thinking a lot more about in recent months. Instead of running around thinking it was darn near impossible for me to commit one, I've come to realize that it's a lot easier than I once thought.
This understanding, I think, wasn't given to me to have me freak out over every failure I have as a mother, wife and friend. I do, however, think this in-depth reflection has been granted so I could pull myself closer to Christ. It's almost as if He threw out a rope to me to begin yanking myself up out of the muck. All the while I've been putting one hand over the other, struggling against the weight of myself, He's not only been holding up the rope, He's been pulling it steadily towards Himself, and with it, me.
Again, the process isn't fun, but the reward is well worth the struggle.
For as much as I'm against using Wiki as a reference, explanations for the Deadly Sins are actually pretty spot on, so it's a good place to start if you're interested in learning more.