There's a word I've been thinking about for the last couple of weeks, one of those nice loaded words of the sort that make people either wander off mentally or fidget nervously or roll their eyes impatiently or gear up for a good heated argument. A word with baggage, so to speak.
Ready for it? My dubious word-'o-the-month is this:
I'll just leave that there for a moment, and say that I'm totally disinterested in baggage. I'm going to avoid the steamer trunks and not dig through any old laundry, mine or anyone else's. One could ramble for quite a long time, digging into the meaning and uses and emotional reactions and social constructs of a word like this. By all means, have at it if you like. I'm not going to today. That's not what I've been thinking about.
Underneath the dubious baggage, I understand that the root of this word simply means "to turn around." To repent is to choose to turn around and go another way. And taken in this very simple and direct form, it is becoming for me a powerful tool of change.
I've written before (and knowing me, I will again) about old patterns and habits and things which I dislike about myself and which trip me up over and over. I hate that personal change happens so slowly, and I constantly wish that I were somehow ahead of where I am now.
There's the old saying that insanity is repeating the same actions and expecting to get a different result. Do you spot it in there? What this saying is indirectly advocating one do, in order to get new results? Repent. Turn around. Do something else.
The standard definition of "repentance" has an element of contrition, and it seems many people add in an element of shame, consciously or not. (Hello, baggage. What else is packed inside those suitcases but shame?) I am finding the assumed emotional component is neither necessary nor helpful. Turning around doesn't take contrition. It doesn't require shame. It doesn't demand any emotional component at all. It needs a decision and act of the will. It takes saying, I'm not going to do that thing anymore. I'm going to do this instead. That's all.
Being human types, emotions get wrapped up in nearly everything we do. Of course. But emotions don't have to be in the lead here, and in many situations, they probably shouldn't be. If I'm confronting a poor and long-standing habit, feeling ashamed doesn't help me break free of it. What helps is making a change. Whatever emotions come along for the ride, a decision backed up by action is the critical component of change. And this is what repentance is.
A lot of teachers and coaches have said the same thing in other words. This theological word, this loaded word is the one that has been in my attention and the one which I have been using to set against the habits I want to change. Why this word? I'm not sure. Answering the question properly means rooting through baggage, which I am not doing today. The simplest thing I can say is that I am reading and following the words of my teacher Jesus, and this is a word he uses. I'm trusting (and this goes against my grain, but I'm doing my best) that I don't need to understand everything perfectly in order to make a change. I'm doing what my Teacher says to do: repent of what's wrong and turn toward what's right. That's not easy, but it is certainly simple. And lo and behold, I find my Teacher is right. Change comes, early and small, and real. But more on that another day.