Any church kid can tell you the definition of repentance. It is about turning around. A one-eighty. An about-face. It is a wonderful idea in theory, but the practice is elusive.
Repentance is not just about being sorry for something. It is about turning over a new leaf. It is about planting a foot firmly in the ground as if to say “I’m not doing this anymore. I’m not taking one more step in this direction”. And then pivoting and heading onto a new path.
For obvious reasons, we don’t love repentance. The truth is we would like to shrug off the negative consequences, but we are doing what we’re doing for a reason. And it is that deep internal motivation we long to preserve. Plus, it is just habit. System One. We’re afraid to change what we do because we are afraid to change who we are. Although, at the very same time, we long to be better.
It is a swirl of mess. The result is that we avoid it all. We try to sidestep, shortcut, or manipulate life to go our way. To avoid negative consequences and reap benefits at just about any cost.
In relationships, repentance can be dangerous. We are admitting we are wrong. Imperfect. Most of us walk on a tight rope with our relationships, daily trying to perform for our significant other. A bit terrified they will see “the real us” and bail. But this very real danger is also a gift.
The gift of repentance is intimacy. Nobody is perfect. No one does right all the time. But the best of us are trying. In humility, we are striving to be better.
Repentance is an act of vulnerable honesty. And courage. It shows commitment, bravery, and fortitude. And in a bizarre sort of way, it makes us more lovable. More human. Simply because it is real. It is who we are. That true longing within us is to have someone see us. Truly see us. And love us anyway. Repentance gives people the chance to love us. We try so hard to manifest intimacy without danger, adventure without risk. But it doesn’t work that way. We are strongest in our honesty not in our perfection.
As much as we have learned to silence it, humans have this uncanny sense. Maybe it is an instinct. We sense when something is off. It is not a perfect ability, so we tend to mess it up; we create our own narratives to explain it. One of the most beautiful things about love between humans is it pushes that feeling away. Things, for a moment at least, just seem right.
The people we are in community with can sense our manipulations, our subtle imperfections. It may just be subconscious, but they know there is something of us we are holding back. Repentance is a brave act. A turning. A new pattern.
It invites and celebrates truth within a relationship. And without truth, a relationship is doomed. Unreal. The gift of repentance is that it names the wrong paths and keeps us turning until we find the right one. It is a second chance. Or a third. Or fourth. If we want to live in the truth, we cannot avoid repentance. We have but two choices: do it to our betterment or ignore it to our arrogant destruction.