Like a lot of religious words, the definition of repentance varies based upon whom you ask. There’s not too many secular uses of the word, though those few define it as regret. The typical Christian definition set it to mean regret and contrition. I come from a background where repentance meant regret and contrition and restitution. I’m sure there are many others that believe repentance is something that must be severe.
Last Wednesday, I came face to face with the most important definition – what it means to me. Once all the argumentation and debate is over, it comes down to a choice. It’s one of those Joshua-esque “as for me and my household” type of moments. When confronted with my own sin, how will I repent?
The lesson was about openness. I have to disclose that I was stretching my legs in the pew, looking to make a speedy exit. It wasn’t because I was afraid of the topic – it was due, in part, to a promise I made myself sometime ago.
I said to myself that I would not be party to a good ol’ confession session any more. I said that I would not let anyone be harmed by these types of meetings, most of all me. I didn’t want to know other people’s sin – it is too tempting to pass judgment. Unless you sin against me, I don’t have any business knowing about it unless you willingly choose to tell me.
That was my promise anyway. I ended up breaking it and I told everyone that I was doing it. You see, I was sinning against the entire assembly, so it was everyone’s business to know my heart – I was sinning directly against them.
I attend church in a place full of very caring people. When my then fiancee moved here, a family kept her in their home free of charge for several months until we were married. When I lived in a very bad neighborhood, it seemed like the entire assembly helping my family move. Many gave money for my son’s hearing aid on two separate occasions. I am allowed to teach adult Bible classes on Sunday mornings with no review of my material – I am trusted completely.
I did not trust my brothers and sisters. I said that I loved them, but I have been afraid that some unseen force would turn them away from the safe place I’ve known for the past seven years. It’s one thing to be vigilant and guard against those that would pervert justice and God’s mercy – our battle is not against flesh and blood. But I made the battle about flesh and blood. In my arrogance, I sat in judgment of everyone deeming them a contamination risk to my faith.
I had no reason for this judgment.
The question the minister asked that night wasn’t “what is your sin”. The question he asked was “what would you not want this group to know?”
I have other sins. I sin against my family. I omit things from my life that I know are godly. I lie. Those are things that do not bother me for anyone to know. I am ashamed of them, but I’ve confessed personal sin for so long to perfect strangers, that it just doesn’t phase me to say any of it publicly. It’s not a demonstration of any kind of faith, it is inurement to feeling anything at the loss of boundaries.
No, I didn’t want people that trusted me to know that I didn’t trust them back. I apologized and I meant it.. As you would expect from anyone wearing the name Christian – I was immediately embraced and shown continued love. I am truly thankful for being with such godly people.
Repentance. What does it mean to me? It used to mean the process by which others deemed you broken enough. (Broken enough for what, I do not know.) Repentance goes beyond some feeling or evaluation. Repentance means to stop hurting people, even if you didn’t intend it and even if they didn’t notice it.