Updated: Jul 24, 2022
I was briefly in the doghouse one recent morning. As is my custom, I went out for an early morning run while my boys were still sleeping and completely forgot 15-year-old Pierce had baseball training at 7am. At 6:45, my boys' dad--who was driving him--texted me wondering where I was. Can't leave little brother Isaac alone. Oh, boy! In an instant, the morning schedule came into sharp focus and I remembered.
I can't run that fast so my ex had to rush out to pick me up mid-route, obviously peeved, jaw set. Can't blame him. I apologized and saw him bite his tongue. A moment later, he admitted he'd forgotten, too. When we got home, I sincerely apologized to Pierce for making him late. Pierce gave me the teen silent treatment as he rushed out the door. I had to text mea culpa to the coach, who otherwise locks the door promptly at 7. Feeling remorseful, I then noticed a sink full of dishes said teen had forgotten to do last night, as he does at least once a week. (Not that I'm keeping count ;-)
I do hate being late, but I tend to overschedule, like millions of working single moms everywhere. I mark my calendar, set alarms on my phone, and write myself giant notes where I'll see them to keep me on task and mostly, I'm punctual, if harried. Even so, I sometimes miss the mark (aka sin).
Sufficiently humbled again the other morning, I resolved to do better. I rounded up my younger son Isaac to deliver him to camp, aiming to pick up the tardy teen on time an hour later.
I stopped by Walmart to exchange some shoes for Isaac which had been sitting in the car for a week. Three-quarters through the long line at customer service, the cashier had technical difficulties. Ruh-roh. If I waited, I might be late to pick up Pierce at 8:15. Late again? Within an hour of my heartfelt vow? So be it. I completed my transaction just as my phone blew up at 8:14. Finally, I answered.
"Where are you?!" Pierce said in a way-too-irritated-way-to-talk-to-your-mom tone. I often sit waiting for him at practice for the hour, though not today.
I calmly explained my dilemma and assured him I'd be there in 10 minutes.
Later jumping into the car, Pierce grinned as he playfully lamented having to wait.
I could not resist reminding him that I had waited some 3,247 hours for him to date, starting with his being two weeks late exiting my womb.
He laughed. Then I kindly reminded him that he'd left a dishful of dishes. Again. Then he told me his father had entirely forgotten him after practice the night before.
We had a good laugh. These types of failings are laughable, after all. Others, not so much.
Big failings or small, we are all human works in progress.
We all (mostly) mean well. We really, really do. At least some of the time.
We just fail. Repeatedly. Surely that's why Jesus told us we may need to forgive people 77 times...and I don't think He means keep a tally so you can bail when the offender hits #77.
There are other issues with which I seldom struggle, but this remains a repeated offense.
That is one problem with repentance.
Repentance again? Sigh.
Imagined dialogue with readers:
READER (with exasperated tone): "Good golly, Isabella! More about repentance? Give it a rest already!"
ISABELLA (kinda' apologetically): "Sorry, not sorry. I can't! It's so important!"
I know, I know...I'm writing an awful lot about repentance these days. While nobody
has said it, I suspect that many of my Guideposts readers are frustrated that I haven't been blogging more like my devotional entries: Candid, encouraging personal anecdotes about navigating life with God. I'm happy to tell you that I have a bunch of entries in Mornings with Jesus through the end of the year and several other entries in upcoming Word a Day and Inspiration from the Garden devotionals.
As for my hammering the subject of repentance, all I can say is that I believe I'm writing more about repentance and the Gospel because that is what the "still small voice" is asking of me. It's important. Critically important.
And with things being as messy as they are down here on earth, it's nice to hear some good news. Because despite popular opinion, repentance is a precursor to very good news. News that is especially good in the midst of very bad news.
So today, I'm going to write a little bit about what God put on my heart about the problem with repentance many of us (I) face.
1: "feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one's wrongdoing or sin."
Source: Oxford Languages
1: to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one's life
2 a: to feel regret or contrition
b: to change one's mind
First, it's important to note right out of the gate that Jesus invites us to repent first to come into relationship with Him by acknowledging we're broken and need saving. You get it? You cannot be saved unless you know you need saving. Of course, right?
It's like floundering in the undertow and not reaching for the life preserver when it's offered.
And you cannot know you need saving unless you know you are too messed up to save/fix yourself!
Most denominations consider this a one and done in the cosmic sense. That is, if you acknowledge Christ as rescuer, you're going to heaven. That's certainly good news cuz the alternative...well, it's hell.
HOWEVER, despite our heavenly standing, Jesus urges ongoing confession to Him and others to maintain a healthy, harmonious relationship with Him, with others, and with ourselves. In 12 Step programs, this is called a 10th Step, which is to be completed throughout the day as needed, and is considered vital to staying on an even keel and right relationship with everyone. Really, ongoing repentance is a fresh reminder of how really broken we are apart from Christ and inevitable gratitude, joy, and wonder for God's grace and mercy that ensues.
So, whether you're freshly connecting to God or maintaining the connection, I see repentance as a simple (not easy) four
step process, backed up by any definition of repentance you care to use.
1. Recognizing wrong. Repentance begins with recognizing and respecting an objective standard (the law) we're failing to meet (sin). Yet whether you buy it or not, you're still accountable. For instance, if you don't feel stealing is wrong, you're not going to feel bad about it or maybe you'll silence your conscience by pushing it down with rationalizations, substances, or just plain ego. But our society deems stealing wrong, so whether you feel it's wrong or not, if you're caught, you're going to have consequences.
God's law is the same. Believe it, respect it, or not, He holds us to it and we'll suffer consequences--even eternally--if we fail to keep it but for Christ. Thankfully, there's Good News, which I'll helpfully remind you of shortly, in case you don't already know.
Illustration: I want my kids to be safe, healthy, successful, and to fulfill their potential. To that end, I'd like them to listen to what I say and do what I ask and in general, to follow the rules--at school, in society, and in traffic--trusting said rules are for their own good.
While I'd prefer they do without argument, debate, snarky-ness, or sulking, I will settle for simple obedience--for their sake. BECAUSE: I want them to be safe, healthy, successful, and to fulfill their potential.
How much pain would we (I) spare myself if I just obeyed. OK. Enough said.
2. Feeling bad about doing bad. According to the dictionary and the Bible, true repentance involves feeling sincerely bad about doing wrong. As I mention in #1, we're not going to necessarily feel bad if we don't acknowledge something is wrong. Or as often, we can feel some discomfort about our conduct because we're hardwired with conscience but can silence it with self-justification, even after suffering the pain of consequences. Something even King David was remarkably skilled at doing during his destructive detour with lust. Anyone know anyone who's done that?
For the rest of us, conscience-sthesia may involve work, booze, food, shopping, busy-ness, or even good deeds we like to believe compensate for our rotten apples.
Fact is, God cannot be hustled, so the self-serving accounting practice doesn't work. Anyway, God's true standard of conduct is PERFECTION. Nobody, no one, ningun is perfect. Let's face it, were I perfect or in the ballpark, I'd be utterly insufferable, smug, with no need for God. You would be, too.
In case I go there, I run up against my sinfulness again. Take diet and exercise. I kind of excel at that, but it's partly fueled by mental self-preservation and vanity, which are sins. Sigh. You see the challenge.
More to the point, anything good in me is God.
He is the One who produces good for, in, and through me over a lifetime. So He gets all the credit and glory.
Just in case we're unclear about our imperfection, Jesus Himself highlighted the standard by saying lust is as bad as philandering and anger is as awful as murder. An omniscient, perfect God looks at our hearts and motives.
Let’s not forget false humility or spiritual pride—also both sins!
Drats and double-drats! That certainly levels the playing field.
3. Being willing to change. Another challenging aspect of true repentance is a willingness to change. If your husband cheats on you, says he's sorry, and keeps right on doing it, that suggests he's not all that sorry. In my experience--and the testimony of the ages--is that mostly, we humans aren't willing to change until we personally feel pain. And even then, people can suffer a lot without being willing to change. Moi.
Jails are full of people living with the consequences of sin (usually their own or others') who don't feel bad, aren't motivated to change, or feel bad only because they got caught, but not because they feel the harm they've done.
It's been my experience and observation that we don't need to land in jail to experience the same baffling delusion. Ordinary people can be insensitive or downright oblivious about how they harm others, even after being confronted until they themselves feel they the pain. I know I have been, much to my chagrin.
This principle holds on an individual level and say, on a national or global level. In some circles, this is usually referred to as hitting a bottom. Whether you're talking about alcohol, eating, or unbridled national self-indulgence and oppression, everybody's bottom is different. Whatever, we can pray that we can all get to our individual and collective bottoms sooner rather than later.
Again, my experience and the evidence of history is that sin (or if you prefer, bad behavior) can go unchecked for a long time and do a lot of damage before the lights come on and we see what we've wrought. That's because...
4. Seeing we're powerless to be perfect or even to truly repent, apart from Him.
Moreover, even if we know something is wrong, we can find ourselves completely unable to correct it. Whether it's eating too much, being judgey, gossiping, envy, fantasizing about the pool boy, surfing Instagram at work, or whatever, we may be helpless to control the impulse. If you're inclined to think you're perfect, remember Jesus' standard of perfection. Repentance invites us to promptly acknowledge our failure to God, and maybe apologize and repair the damage if someone else is affected. Ideally, this has the added effect of keeping us humble.
Having said all that, confession is a discipline we can willingly employ as a matter of wisdom and obedience even if we don't like it. That's a choice over which we do have power.
The baffling truth remains that we can even suffer grave consequences, like landing in jail for stealing, developing health problems by overeating, alienating our families through overwork, contributing to climate change through planetary abuse, or fomenting corporate or national decline through greed, corruption, and recklessness, and still not be motivated to change!
Goodness! This sounds downright hopeless! Whatever are we to do?
Yes, this would just lead us to inevitable despair were it not for some very...
The remedy to this sorry state of affairs remains repentance, if only for the repentance of being unrepentant. We can cry out to Jesus and receive His forgiveness.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (ESV)
With God, it's absolutely never, ever too late for a new beginning. We can confess our sins, receive forgiveness, and try again, trusting Jesus to change us with scant help from us apart from humble willingness. Then we can rest in the confidence, that in the meantime, He loves and accepts us in our brokenness.
That's such very good news.
Grace, peace, joy & love in Christ,