The book I use for daily prayer, The Divine Hours, includes a lot of confessions, like this classic: Almighty God, my heavenly Father: I have sinned against you, through my own fault, in thought, and word, and deed, and in what I have left undone.
I wince almost every time I read this prayer.
It’s cliché to wince at repentance, of course. We’re sinners, so of course we balk at kneeling. It’s why repentance is so necessary.
But my wincing feels different. (Is this self-delusion?)
I wince at repentance because I feel like I’ve repented too much. Repented for sins that weren’t mine to bear. Shamed myself for brokenness that I wasn’t responsible for.
To give a petite for-instance, I was involved in a campus ministry through college that was not a good fit for me. From the start, I didn’t like their views on women. I didn’t like their style of evangelism. I shoehorned myself into fitting into that fellowship for four years because—well, partially because I was afraid and lonely.
But also? There was a lot of pressure to shoehorn myself. A lot of pressure. From lovely, well-meaning people. But pressure nonetheless.
For a long time, I berated myself for not being strong enough to resist the pressure. For going along with something I disliked. For allowing my faith to be damaged by four years of conformity.
But the people exerting pressure on me, however well-intentioned, had more power than I did. I didn’t have a lot of strength at that point of my life to resist. (And thanks be to God—I’ve sought one of them out, and she and I were able to figure out what happened, and why, and she apologized for pressure that she did not intend).
But for a long time, I thought I was the only one to blame. Blaming myself has injured me. That’s why I wince at repentance.
I repent for others’ sins because I struggle with a kind of moral perfectionism. Some people have called it scrupulosity—an anxious internal pursuit of righteousness.
I assume every sin can be laid at my own door. That means I’m too ready to explain away others’ sin against me, and swallow toxicity whole.
Scrupulosity means I use repentance to cudgel myself. I twist confession into a shame-fest. I blame myself for everything, and my spirit is ready for me to stop.
In other words, I need to repent for using repentance against myself. I know this.
But sometimes, I see confessions, and I want to not have feel scrupulous any more. To just relax. To not be slave to this internal moral abacus of mine.
Sometimes, I am tired of groveling.
Lately, I’ve been wondering, though, if thinking of repentance as groveling is the whole problem. Maybe, instead, repentance about honesty. About crying for help. Maybe repentance is a hand lifting my face out of the mud, not pushing it deeper in.
When I pray about what I have done, what I have left undone, I remind myself that the whole point is that—blame whoever you want—I am in bondage. Often, I am in bondage to myself, and confession helps set me free from my hand-made chains. Confession is not saying yes to shame. Repentance is not turning towards self-loathing.
Can I confess to you that I find this very hard to believe?
I am trying to re-learn how to repent. I’m trying to trust Jesus when he describes it as a return home to a beloved parent. As a rejoicing of angels. As saving, as help, as rescue.
I trying to believe that every time I repent, a door to heaven opens in my heart—and I’m given a warm welcome into freedom.
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33 thoughts on “Have I Repented too Much?”
I almost passed this one by. Saw the title in my email and thought I’d skip over but good sense won out and read what I so needed to hear. “Repented for sins that weren’t mine to bear. Shamed myself for brokenness that I wasn’t responsible for.” Yes, yes. Situations and people quickly came to mind and I’m not sure I can still release myself of feeling I still need repentance for them. And then you said this: “Maybe repentance is a hand lifting my face out of the mud, not pushing it deeper in.” Thank you, Heather, for working this out for the rest of us to consider.
I’m glad you didn’t skip 🙂 I pray that God releases you from it, little by little. It’s not a one-time thing, right? We’re all growing into the practice of GOd’s presence 🙂
As a (sometimes recovering) perfectionist, I get it! My problem is that I let shame disable me from repentance altogether. I heap guilt upon myself and feel like God can’t even (or doesn’t want to) hear my confession. I know this is all a lie. I am trying to re-learn repentance, too. “A warm welcome into freedom…”clinging to that today, friend!
Oh, yes, I do that too. Or I kind of shy away from confession b/c it feels like too much–when in fact it’s almost always a relief when I come to God with my head bowed. I pray that both of us can come easy into God’s presence, whether we’ve sinned or not.
“Repented for sins that weren’t mine to bear. Shamed myself for brokenness that I wasn’t responsible for.” Oh my goodness, I have done that so much! It took another person to point out to me that I take on responsibility that isn’t mine, and when I traced it back, I found the cause. But knowing why I do it doesn’t automatically stop me from doing it. Of course I also tend to think (wrongly) I am supposed to be completely spiritually mature and sinless since salvation. Oh the joy of going through a lot of bad theology I was raised on. 🙂
Ha, yes, Martha–“spiritually mature and sinless since salvation.” me too. It’s a hard habit to unlearn, like all my other coping mechanisms. Sometimes it’s safer to pin everything on ourselves than it is to ask other people to repent and be safe people. Unfortunately.
Repentance changed for me when I thought of it as an invitation to return home. All I have to do is stop, say “Here I am God,” and let God find me. (Kind of like that lost lamb story Jesus talked about.) Thank you for sharing your words, Heather.
YES! Totally an invitation, and one that draws us close to the One who loves us.
Ahh Heather! It seems redundant to tell you AGAIN, that your words continuously echo so much of my thought life and internal dialogue/struggle. Sheesh! I too, was deeply involved with an “on-fire” campus ministry through college and am still unraveling aspects of bad theology contributing to bad choices. (or misguided, bad results). I went to college with the dinosaurs and part of my shame is that I “should” be mature, know my theology, God, and have some semblance of answers at my age! Ongoing healing, ongoing returning home. Thanks my dear, for continually laying your guts out there.
“Maybe, instead, repentance is about honesty. About crying for help. Maybe repentance is a hand lifting my face out of the mud, not pushing it deeper in.” What a beautiful way to look at repentance! It’s not meant to shame us but to free us. Thank you for sharing your struggles and showing us what repentance really is. Blessings to you, Heather!
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