Repent! Turn from your wicked ways! Ask forgiveness from your sins. Repeat this prayer after me.
These may be a few of the phrases we think of when we hear the word repentance. Also the similarities between the word penance and repentance sometimes cause us to feel we must pay some price to arrive at a place of forgiveness. However, as we enter into the first week of Lent on this Ash Wednesday, let us attempt to free our mind of these culturally conditioned ideas we have of the word repentance. I believe that if we can enable ourselves to take a fresh look at repentance it can be something that enriches our lives, relationships and our walk of faith.
So the first thing that skews our understanding of repentance is a poor understanding of sin. Let us talk for a moment about what sin is not. Sin is not this dark cloak that separates us from God. Sin is not falling outside of a cosmic list of rules handed down to a desert nomad thousands of years ago. Sin is not something that God cannot look upon. Sin is not primarily about our actions. I believe God goes TOWARDS us in our sin, never away.
So what IS sin? The definition of sin that I work off of is one I heard from my friend Michael Hardin which he heard from a minister named Denny Moon which says that sin is the destructive way in which we handle our pain. If this is true, and I believe that it is, then sin is when we do violence to our own souls. When we operate in a self-destructive way, (addiction, greed, self-harm to name a few) we injure our own souls. Similarly, we also do violence to our own souls when we operate in destructive ways towards others. If I murder a man, I may destroy his body, but I also inflict deep wounds to my own soul. When I gossip about and slander another person, I may do damage to their reputation, but I also inflict wounds upon my own reputation and my own soul.
God is in the business of holistic healing. Repentance is our choice to enter into this healing Abba offers us. Repentance is when we recognize the violence we are inflicting upon our own souls and begin the journey towards healing. Repentance is not a single moment. Repentance is a process. Repentance is not beating ourselves up over the wrongs we have done. Repentance is seeking healing from the wounds our wrongs have created.
Our reading this week is the famous parable of the prodigal son. Obviously this is a story Jesus told with many layers of points but let us imagine for a moment that the prodigal son was a historical account. Let’s call him Luke since his story is found in the gospel of Luke. If Luke were a real person then the decisions he made with his inheritance would have surely been influenced by the inner pain he had been carrying with him for who knows how many years. Even when Luke could no longer stand the pain of eating pig slop, he still acted out of his pain as he returned home just begging for a job. Luke recited his apology to himself on his way home. He still believed he was only worthy to be a servant in his father’s home.
His father, however, had been repeatedly going towards him. The passage in Luke tells us the father sees Luke “while he was still a long ways off”. That only happens when you are looking for something. The father had been looking for his son, probably on a daily basis. The son says he is no longer worthy to be called son. Luke is still responding from pain. The father shows him in several different ways what he believes is true about his son. I believe the repentance in this story takes place not when we have traditionally been told it takes place, at the moment Luke decides to return home. The repentance takes place when the son receives his father’s embrace, when he receives his father’s robe, sandals and ring. Repentance took place when Luke entered the party his father threw him. Repentance began when this son allowed himself to be a son and not a servant.
We are sons and daughters of God. May we enter into repentance this week for treating ourselves or others any differently. May we enter into the healing that comes from recognizing the thumbprint of the Divine upon our own souls, as well as upon those with whom we interact with.
I leave you with a few questions to ponder. How have I considered myself as “less than” recently? How have I considered others as “less than” recently? What, if any, mentalities and perspectives do I need to begin journeying away from? What areas of my heart are wounded and in need of care?