Easter Sunday has come and gone. This season of lent, a forty-day stretch that I have “observed” in one way, shape, or form for the last twenty-nine years has officially ended, so we can all go back to our coffee and chocolate and television now. I did not give anything up this year, mainly because I’ve only once been able to do that—it was ice cream in 2003, and basically it was a six-week diet of sorts with no spiritual implications for my eighteen-year-old self—but I did commit to an awesome lent devotion and to praying every day.
Wait. You don’t already pray every day? The answer is no, not like I should be praying. When I’m tired or weary or stressed I easily revert back to a six year old and start every Jesus encounter with “Dear God, please give/please bless/please be with…” basically a short running bullet point list of the things I need him to do for me. I wanted this Lenten season to start something new in me: a new way to pray, a new desperate need for prayer, a new belief in its power.
And what happened was sort of that. I still pray for the things I need think I need, but the last few weeks for me have been about one thing: repentance. And that word, with all its weightiness, is changing the way I pray. And I hope, the way I live, too. When you sit with the scriptures and read about Jesus’ message, about his trial, about the way he was mocked and tortured and killed and how he never once opened his mouth with words indicating any sort of defensive posture, the only possible response is to repent.
So I did, often, in my words and prayers. I’m good with words, comfortable with them. I can craft them and string them together in ways that sure make it seem like God has done a new thing in my life and heart. And, oh, how I wish that could be enough. But then like any good teacher, God gave me plenty of opportunities to practice repentance in real life, if only to remind myself how much I still need him and the grace he reached down from the cross and handed to me.
I had a misunderstanding with a friend, and because, unlike Jesus I always take a defensive posture when questioned, it took me about twenty-four hours to even consider seeing her point of view. I had hurt her feelings, yet wasted a day on my own case. Repentance.
My daughter has dug her heels in and declared war on potty training. She is twenty-seven months old, and more than once I’ve been so mad at her for another accident that I have treated her like a terrorist who purposely sabotaged my day. Repentance.
My husband has needed encouragement for the leadership roles he taken on, and at times I’ve picked his methods apart and put them back together the way I would do it. Repentance.
A judgment about someone or something I know only the very surface about. Repentance.
Gossip, comparison, jealousy, withholding my words because I don’t want to celebrate someone else at the moment. Repentance.
All of life, every day, I’m starting to see how much I need repentance. I often think that when one is a Christian for a long time, repentance can be the first thing that falls off the cart and sits on the side of the road. Sometimes we travel days, weeks, months without realizing we left it behind some time ago. What I’m learning is that I need to hold tight to repentance, not because it should be a somber reminder of my junk, or because I want to turn into a melancholic who always feels guilty for something. No, the opposite actually. I want to hold on to repentance because it keeps my heart near the cross, that place where grace poured down from heaven in the man from Nazareth, Jesus.
I truly want with all of my heart to be a “good” follower of Jesus. But that has turned in to striving on so many levels, and I can’t keep up with my own efforts sometimes. What repentance is teaching me is that striving does not get me closer to Jesus or win me more points with him than the next gal. More points? That’s not even a thing in God’s eyes. When I start with repentance, I’m already at the cross, which is as close to the heart of Jesus that I could possibly be. Everything else I do with my life is from there, not to get me there. And that is a whole different thing.
Today, my prayers begin with repentance. And sometimes that is as far as they get, because as I think of all the things I could start to list for God, I realize I have little need for anything more than the grace that comes with a humble heart.