Repentance is a big hairy word that few particularly like. It carries a lot of baggage with it. It’s a word that’s been used as a battering ram on folks’ hearts, when really it was intended as an invitation. To repent, simply put, is to change, literally, to turn around. It’s to admit you’ve been headed in the wrong direction, and to turn around to head in the right direction, God’s direction, following God’s directions.
Repentance isn’t about what we can do. It’s about what we can’t do, not alone.
Take a list of New Year’s resolutions, for instance, and remove the silly stuff and promises we’ll break before we even get the kids back to school. Take those away until the list includes what really matters: the practice of our faith, our health, our relationships. The things on any list, the things we might really need to change, are things we can’t change, not alone.
I can’t will myself to be a better parent in the ways that really matter. I can’t make myself more patient, more forgiving, more calm, and more understanding, by sheer force of will. I can’t do it. I need my family’s help and the help of my friends and church family. But, more than that, I need God’s help. Admitting that I need help is repentance, and that’s what will make the difference in the next 365 days to come.
A preacher told a story about a doctor, years ago, who encountered a man in his rounds at a nursing home. The man sat daily at the bedside of his wife who was in the late stages of dementia, uncommunicative, nearing death. Faithfully, the man attended to his wife, never leaving except to eat and sleep, until the moment she passed away. He wept then bitterly, berating himself for the terrible husband he had been.
The people around him were bewildered. They tried to comfort him. “You were so faithful,” they told him. “You never left her side.”
But he only shook his head and wept the more. “No,” he told them, “you don’t understand. You didn’t know me before. I let my work come first. I rarely stayed home. I belittled her when I was home. She was the faithful one, not me, and now it’s too late. It will always be too late.”
Every New Year’s Day invites us to consider the gift of another year of life as an act of God’s mercy and also a gentle warning that a time will come for all of us when it will be too late to do more.
So, repent. Yes, repent. And believe the good news. And may the Lord richly bless you in 2018.