“Turn around young man! You get yourself back over here! RIGHT NOW!”
That phrase has been uttered by the parents of boys from ages past and will be uttered for ages to come. There is just something about little boys and their desire to run.
The first time I said these words my son was about two. He had discovered the joy of running and the game of running away from Mom and Dad. The three of us were at Panera having a little lunch date and as were packing up my boy smiled up at me took off! I tried the words, not too loudly and not with too much authority because we were in Panera. They didn’t work. Those little legs rushed him around the corner. At that moment, my wife and I had a decision to make. How do we wrangle this little guy? We went with divide and conquer. She went one way, I went the other. The problem? He went a third and ended up in the kitchen. One of the kind employees brought out this squirmy, giggling, little dude and gave him back to us.
But those words, “Turn around young man! You get yourself back over here! RIGHT NOW!” Turned out to be utterly useless.
Do you know what’s funny? Many of us think that God is saying that to us all the time. Why? I have often discussed repentance with people and they, without exception, have always thought that it is a negative. If you were to define the word “repentance,” you would probably say something like, “To stop doing something bad or wrong, to turn from sin.”
Over the years, I have come to think that maybe that’s not the best definition. Particularly, as we think about what it means in the context of our spirituality.
Repentance at its most fundamental level is simply to turn around from the direction you’re currently heading. Does it have a correlation to the stopping of doing bad things? Absolutely. But that is not all that it is. This is the great problem with so much of our understanding of the Christian life and spirituality. We focus on one aspect of some issue and think that is all there is, yet there is so much more.
Repentance is much more than simply to stop doing bad things. It is not just to stop sinning. It is that, but it’s more than that too.
Whenever God breaks in and we experience a “kairos” moment there is a turning involved. That turning is rightly understood as repentance. This turn could be a move from better to best. It very well could be a shift where we turn from a very good thing that we are doing to something that is even better. Think about that for a moment. Have you ever considered the reality that repentance can be positive?
To repent is to turn and that means change. I think that a very real part of what it is that causes us to think about repentance in a negative light is that many of us hate change. Change for so many is a dirty word.
We prefer to be comfortable and change, almost by definition, is uncomfortable. Change challenges us and moves us from one place to another. When we experience change we begin to realize that maybe, just maybe, we can’t or don’t control everything around us.
Perhaps, above all, we want to be in control. We want to control our outcomes and circumstances. When there is lack of control we experience fear. This fear drives us to do whatever it is that we need to do to regain that control.
As a result, “repentance,” becomes something that we avoid and hide from. We cast it in a negative light and only understand it in conjunction with sin.
The reality is that repentance is good. As my friend The Beard says, “Super good.” When we repent it moves us towards a place where we can believe God in a fresh new way. We are able to move out on new adventures.
When we repent, when we change direction we get to experience life in a new way. It is fun, it is exciting, it is joy.
Repentance is to turn. It is not the call of the angry Father or an angry God to simply stop sinning.
At the end of the day, repentance is a loving Father inviting us into a new depth of joy.