“To repent is to alter one’s way of looking at life; it is to take God’s point of view instead of one’s own” (Anonymous).
THE PERSON DOESN’T LIVE WHO DOESN’T NEED TO MAKE CORRECTIONS. Mistakes are a fact of life. We can’t even avoid wrongdoing by doing nothing, for doing nothing is wrong in itself. So from time to time, all of us will need to adopt a penitent attitude. With a genuinely contrite spirit, we will need to alter our way of looking at life and “take God’s point of view” instead of our own. And really, we need to do better than use the word “mistake.” Sometimes the wrongs that we commit are more than just inadvisable; they are evil. Penitence humbly faces that fact without evasion.
But we need to guard against three misconceptions of penitence.
(1) Penitence is not demeaning. Some people portray penitence as nothing more than a grovelling, craven spirit, but that is a caricature of penitence rather than a true picture of it. There is nothing demeaning about humility or contrition. Indeed few things are more noble.
(2) Penitence is more than remorse. While the penitent attitude involves a broken heart, there is more to it than that. Sorrow is often merely self-centered, but real penitence goes beyond sorrow to an acknowledgment of evil and a commitment to make correction.
(3) Penitence requires action. As Tryon Edwards said, “Right actions for the future are the best apologies for wrong ones in the past.” That doesn’t mean that verbal apologies don’t need to be made; it just means that words alone don’t suffice. Penitence requires action.
One reason penitence is such a foreign concept to so many of us is that our lives are so crowded and congested. Rarely are we alone, and rarely are we quiet. The still, small voice of conscience can’t compete with the loud, incessant drumbeat of our busyness. We are simply too preoccupied with work and play to notice that some of our doings are wrong — simply wrong. Perhaps we fear the pain of deep penitence, but truly, it is the door through which we must pass if we are ever to make any real progress in this fractured world.
“In solitude, our heart can slowly take off its many protective devices and can grow so wide and deep that nothing human is strange to it. Then we can become contrite, crushed, and broken, not just by our own sins and failings, but also by the pain of our fellow human beings” (Henri J. M. Nouwen).