A New Understanding of Repentance
When’s the last time you apologized? When’s the last you repented? Was it in a formal way like the 12 step program or the sacrament of confession or a meeting with an elder? Was it in an informal way, “gosh, I’m so sorry”? Was it in person, on paper, on the phone? When was the last time it turned you back to love and kindness and generosity? When was the last time it stuck?
If I haven’t talked about Jonathan and Melissa Helser yet on this blog, I’d be pretty surprised. They are the hugely inspiring couple behind the Eighteen Inch Journey retreat, the Cageless Birds music/leather goods/coffee/books collective, and worship recording artists who’ve worked with Bethel Music, my personal very favorite in the world. They also have a podcast that is just… wow.
Melissa Helser was speaking on a recent podcast episode about being rooted in the Trinity. She was talking about breakthroughs and mentioned a pretty radical understanding of repentance. One that in my many years as a Christian I had never encountered. It stopped me in my tracks.
It couldn’t be more timely during this season of Lent, which is supposed to be all about repentance and bringing us closer to the heart of God. To repent means to turn around, to go back, to have a new perspective. Sure, it means to ask for forgiveness of sins and try to make some kind of restitution for any choices we make against God and the people we love. But when John the Baptist says things like “repent! The Kingdom of God is at hand!” he might have been doing less rebuking and a little more of asking people to shift their perspective back toward God. Repent. Turn around. Go back to your first love.
It’s in that spirit that Melissa Helser talks about true repentance. She said that all faults and failing begin with a false understanding about God. If we confess our sins and daily weaknesses like bitterness, envy, anger, and pride, we’re only working on part of the problem. If we go a little deeper, we can see how these weaknesses show a misunderstanding or false belief about the true goodness of the Father.
Once during the Eighteen Inch Journey retreat, Melissa was counseling one of the retreatants who was struggling with envy. Every time someone else in the room had a breakthrough, had a revelation, got a word or sign from God, this young woman would just seethe with envy. “Why didn’t I get that too? Where’s my revelation?” She confessed again and again to envy and jealousy but it never seemed to click.
Melissa asked her what was behind it. What was she thinking about God and His Nature when she envied? The woman broke down in tears and said she thought God had forgotten her. That He was unfair. That He was withholding the very best from her. Once she repented of those false ideas of the Father, she started to experience all kinds of healing.
I’m no Melissa Helser, and I’m not in the woods of North Carolina at a 60 day retreat focused solely on the heart of God. Though I really wish I was! But this simple concept: “what does this action or thought reveal about my misunderstanding of the nature of God?” sunk deep in my heart and started to just pop up all the time. Everything about my weaknesses and failings became that much clearer.
That’s something I love about Lent. When you strip back your daily life to only the necessities, you can see so much more clearly the heart of God and how it beats for you.
One of my basic everyday struggles is passing off “help” to friends as a lot of unsolicited advice. Even though it’s really only a problem from time to time, I try hard to rein that in. It often comes out of good nature and a desire to help people be the sons and daughters God created them to be: full of life, happiness, direction, hope, health, joy. Really. I love the people around me and really really want the very best for them.
Unfortunately, there are times when I might be a little heavy handed with all of this. Maybe I can be too blunt, or not listen, or impatient for change. I also don’t always know what’s best for someone. Which is a pretty obvious thing, but something that I can lose sight of sometimes.
So it’s something that over and over I struggle with. “Ugh. Stop talking Stephanie. Start listening. This person isn’t ready. You don’t always know what’s best.” Instead of changing, I find myself repeating the same mistakes over and over. I tell myself: “be kind. Be patient. Lead with love.” And over and over again, I can’t seem to shake it. I can redirect it into something like this blog where readers can really take it or leave it. But it doesn’t go away.
It’s a good, a pure good, to want to build people up and encourage them on their way. It’s unloving when it becomes harsh, impatient, frustrated. Most of the time, it’s somewhere in the middle.
After I heard this podcast, I started thinking a lot more about what’s behind these faults and human weaknesses of mine. Where exactly is this coming from? Why am I doing something that can sometimes hurt or irritate the people around me? Why does this happen again and again? Why am I so addicted to helping and meddling? Ugh. I want this to change…
It all became clear the other day when I heard Melissa Helser speaking on her podcast. I have this false belief that God isn’t sovereign, that He isn’t involved, that He’s not a loving God, that He’s not paying attention. I become impatient because I’m tired of waiting around for God to move a person’s heart. I don’t think He’s intervening on the right timetable. I think He’s just letting something go or not paying attention.
I’m the type of person in a group work project in school who would just be like, “ugh, just let me finish this. It’s going to go faster and be better than waiting for all of you to get it together.” That might be how group work behaves sometimes, and I’ve saved plenty of projects from going totally awry. It’s no way to live a life though.
Life isn’t school and God isn’t just another member of my cohort. He’s GOD. Like really, truly God. Sovereign. Omnipotent. Faultless. Powerful. The Great I Am. Father. Lover. Faithful Friend. He’s got this.
He’s loving the people around me by blessing them with free will. He’s giving them loving space and the ability to fall down so they can get back up with Him. He knows their hearts. He knows their timeline. He’s got them in the palm of His hand. He set the stars in motion. He created the sea and mountains and dry land. He called each good in its own time. On their schedule. He clearly knows what He’s doing.
So I repent of thinking that God is letting things slide. I repent of the false belief that God isn’t 100% fully, unflinchingly invested in the hearts of His children. I repent of the false belief that God isn’t good. I repent of the idea that I’m on the throne and not Him. I repent of the belief that I know better.
In doing this, I’m allowing my good nature to be more pure, to be more loving, to have a greater effect. Repenting, turning back, getting some perspective is allowing me to do what I love, helping, in the kindest way. Repenting of these false beliefs about the Father helps me relax knowing He’s handling it. It’s not on my shoulders. The health and well-being of the people around me is something I’m invested in but not something I’m responsible for. It’s giving me a bigger heart to listen, to be patient, to be kind, to be loving, to be more of those things I read about in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. It’s making room in my heart for the fruits of Holy Spirit and setting things to the metronome of heaven. Everything in its own time. In its own season. At the heartbeat of itself.
I’ve had a lot of moments the past few weeks where I felt weak and helpless falling into the same faults, mistakes, and failings. But I’ve been given such a powerful tool: the ability to peer into the false beliefs I have that are getting in the way of seeing God for exactly Who and What He is. With each one, I declare out loud:
- “Father, I repent of the false belief that You’re not doing Your job”
- “Father, I repent of the false belief that You are withholding the very best from me”
- “Father, I repent of the false belief that You don’t care”
- “Father, I repent of the false belief that You won’t forgive me”
- “Father, I repent of the false belief that You’re not in control”
- “Father, I repent of the false belief that I’m all alone in this and that You left my side”
- “Father, I repent of the false belief that I’m unworthy of Your love”
- “Father, I repent of the false belief that You forgot me”
What a relief! What a blessed relief! When God is on His throne, I can take a deep breath, I can stop feeling the heavy weight of my burdens, I can see clearly, I can love more, I can just relax.
I start to see these faults and failings kind of slipping away. It becomes so much easier to let them go! And it’s so much easier to turn back to the heart of the Father, where I really, really want to be.
I don’t know. It’s worth thinking about. I’m not going to pressure you into trying this. I’m not going to nag you until you get it right. I’m just putting this out there. Give it a go or not. Think about it or not. Reflect on it or not. God’s got this. And I can take a deep breath and let go.