I hope that there are very few of you who will ever see me right after I have committed a huge error. Whether I make them knowingly or by mistake, my errors inspire extreme defensiveness about the whole situation. It’s the way my mind works. I generate reasons that the action was not (solely) my fault. There were extenuating circumstances at work or perhaps the devil made me do it! (Ok, maybe not that so much.) This personal characteristic of mine drives Paul crazy. He’d much rather I just own the error, ask for forgiveness and move on with life. Simple and straightforward, right?
But it’s just not that easy. In that horrible moment when I realize that I have done something incorrect (whether morally incorrect or just socially incorrect) my mind immediately seeks ways to fortify my reputation. It’s not that I don’t realize the error. No. Usually I’m very aware of the error. What drives me to immediately look for an excuse is this: the fear of what people will think of me.
This is a crippling fear. Will they think I am stupid? Will they think that I am weak? Will they think that I am incompetent? Will they think that I am irresponsible? Will they think that I never read my bible?! Will they think that I am just a ditzy blonde?!? (Oh wait – redhead now : ) You get the idea. Thus, I must find a way to explain the situation so as to avoid the appearance of….all those characteristics.
I have also come to realize that this fear is greatest when my error touches the people that I love the most. It’s as though I have a sliding scale for this fear. Greatest with family, moderately with work colleges, mild to none with strangers. As I’ve battled this fear, I’ve realized that my apprehension concerning failure has also extended into my relationship with God. God is awe-inspiring. The thought that God the father loved me enough to send God the Son to die for my guilt so that I don’t have to is amazing (John 3:16). With Sin comes a debt guilt that I could never pay and could never be free of. So God is at the top of my hierarchy of people whom I long to please. He is the single most obedience-worthy person in my life. I know this. And yet I fail. Over and over and over, I fail. Every day, I fail. Every hour and sometimes for hours on end (considering how long I can stay angry, jealous, ungrateful, etc.), I FAIL.
So what of sin and facing God? My natural desire is to become defensive. To give God all my illegitimate reasons for the failure. But in my heart I know my context, the situation surrounding the sin, is not causative. I choose to sin. True, the situation certainly helps me along a bit (it’s way easier to sin on Mondays!). The situations we face definitely present some pretty strong temptations to sin. But the truth is, I chose to reject love for God (obedience–John 14:15) and instead chose the course of action which does not please God.
But lately God is teaching me to leave my excuses at the door of the throne room, and to experience the great joy which comes from simple, excuseless repentance.
Before I began to embrace this repentance, I lived with a vague idea that God was unhappy (read: filled with righteous anger) with me whenever I sinned. Or that maybe he was just shaking his head in exasperation. “I provided her with salvation and this, this is the way she decided to live!?” The unexpected and amazing truth is that his attitude towards me is the exact opposite. His heart is turned towards me and is full of love, faithfulness, goodness, and patience. Consider Psalm 25:4—11.
Show me your ways, Lord,
teach me your paths.
5 Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
6 Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
for you, Lord, are good.
8Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
9 He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way.
10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.
11 For the sake of your name, Lord,
forgive my iniquity, though it is great.
The psalmist states his error (verses 7, 11). He doesn’t include excuses. Instead he reminds himself of God’s goodness, faithfulness, mercy and love. And accepting these characteristics by faith, he asks for forgiveness. He doesn’t ask forgiveness because God is angry or supremely disappointed. He asks for forgiveness because he knows that God is good.
Thus, when I am tempted to build defenses and “batten down the hatches” for a long, drawn out resistance campaign to admitting my failures, I must stop and consider my God. I must remember his tender mercies; his longsuffering (not to be confused with impatient tolerance); and his overwhelming love (Rom 2:4). And then I can move towards him, name the sin and its consequences and ask for a restored relationship.
All this is done by faith. I trust him because his opinion of me is not rooted in my actions and his love for me is not altered by my choices (Lamentations 3:22-24). His character is the reason I can go to him often and without fear. It is why I ask and believe that his spirit will help me change to be like his son. I trust that no matter how often I fail, his love will uphold me and his mercies will strengthen me. This is what makes repentance joyful.
And coming full circle, I’ve discovered that this idea has changed the way that I discuss my failures with Paul. Though the perfect father/imperfect daughter relationship that I share with God has a lot more going for it than the imperfect husband/imperfect wife relationship (namely, God is immutable and infallible, etc.), I can apply many of the same principles to moments of failure within my marriage. In that moment of decision, I have to stop and consider my husband. Paul respects me. Encourages me. Honors me. Wants God’s best for my life. He has promised to love and support me throughout our life together. If I stop the defensiveness impulse and instead choose to believe these things, the fear that entangles me is removed. Instead, I can be open and honest about my failures. I can trust him with an admission of guilt. It has been hard to do, but learning to trust Paul with the truth of my mistakes has strengthened our love for each other and improved the stability of our marriage.
So, as you go about your day, have you experienced the joy of repentance lately?