Right by my front door is a print of Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son.” It’s my favorite painting based on one of my favorite Bible stories. A son who has been a complete screw-up, returns home to beg forgiveness and ask to be taken back as a servant, but he never has a chance to get the speech out.
The dad, who has been waiting for him, runs and embraces him. In the Rembrandt, the son is a mess – ragged, barefoot, shorn. He’s on his knees, head bowed to the father’s chest. The father leans over him, arms circling him, hands on his back. The expression on his face is infinitely tender.
Jesus told the story to get through to us that God is like that – always waiting, ready to meet us, hold us and forgive us. So, needless to say, this fourth post on how to spiritually recharge is on repentance.
The energy we waste trying to ignore and deny the wrong we think and do, is phenomenal. The elaborate games we play to focus on anything but our inner darkness are soul-destroying. There is a marvelous relief that comes from turning towards God, and saying, “I’m sorry. These are the ways I’ve messed up. These are the evil things I’ve thought. This is how I’m broken.”
The end goal is to be an open book before God all the time, to turn to God for help and redirection as soon as a crappy thought enters our head. But that takes time. What gets us there is a regular habit of self-examination and confession. Like meditation, described in the last post, it requires solitude.
Repentance begins with the “searching and fearless moral inventory” of Alcoholic’s Anonymous’ fourth step, the honesty needed before healing and change can happen. Lots of people get stuck here, because it’s hard. It’s hard to face the pain of how we have morally failed, and hurt people. It’s hard to admit that many of our thoughts are greedy, angry and cowardly, that so many of our motives are selfish. Writing it all down can help us face the music and long to change.
The only reason to go through the agony of it is Jesus’ assurance (through three different stories) that there really is a God who adores us. We really do have a shot at being utterly forgiven, of starting all over again with a power much greater than our own.
Some might be helped with a framework:
- The seven deadly sins is a neat summary of human depravity that’s been around for centuries: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth. We can take a few minutes to screen ourselves for each one. Maybe do double time on pride; it feeds everything else.
- You can break your life down into categories, such as God, family, job, church, friends, and examine your behavior in all those relationships.
- Martin Luther used the ten commandments as his guide for confession.
However you structure it, be specific, putting your wrongs into words, spoken or written to God. When you are finished, remember the promise from first John that after you confess, you are off the hook and cleansed by God. Thank God for that. We’re not supposed to wallow in self-condemnation.
When private confession is not enough to relieve our sense of guilt and set us free from the sin, then we should confess to another person, someone mature who won’t gossip. This takes courage, but it makes God’s mercy very real to us, and the accountability really empowers change.