“Repentance is to change direction so you don’t end up where you are heading…” Anne Lamott
Today I am considering the well-known cry of John the Baptist, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” As I ponder the deeper meaning of this decree, I must admit that I am perplexed by the common connotations for the word “repent.”
I googled the word and found this definition (which is typical)… “to feel or express regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin.”
Okay. So what?
More Than Remorse
What if a do feel remorse? How does my feeling tangibly address my regrettable actions? Simply put, it doesn’t help much. Yes, regret may demonstrate that I believe I acted unwisely and perhaps without concern for another person. And although regret and remorse may be a good start, they do absolutely nothing to mediate the issue.
However, in the Greek text of the New Testament, the word used for repentance is metanoia, which in the Greek lexicon is more aptly defined as “to change one’s mind.” Even more theologians refer to the idea that to repent is also to change one’s behaviors and one’s heart.
It’s All About the Heart
Now we’re making some sense. As Anne Lamott referred to above, “Repentance is to change direction.” John the Baptist was not pleading with people to feel regret or remorse or guilt or shame. He was simply saying (in Charlie’s vernacular), “Hey all. The kingdom of God is about to descend upon the earth, change your hearts and your minds so that you may even be able to recognize him when he comes.”
I like this definition of repentance… a lot. Since behavior is always contingent on values, meaningful change must begin on the inside, in the heart (and mind). John the Baptist alerted his followers that their inner lives were a mess, and that messy interiors made for even messier exteriors where behaviors are demonstrable.
Begin with Self-Knowledge
This is just another reason I am so fond of self-reflection and contemplation because it is through these disciplines that we readily access our inner core, our true selves… our “heart.” And it is through these disciplines that we can see the work of God in the middle of everyday life. Our behaviors—and might I add especially behaviors towards other people—demonstrate what we think, feel, and believe.
I like the way Anne Lamott reminds us that change is only beneficial went it involves the heart as she writes… “If I simply repent to look good, only my actions change, not my heart or outlook. If I’m repenting by leaning in closer to life… then my perspective changes and I’m kinder.”
If You Feel Bad About a Behavior
First, Change Your Heart
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