Repentance and Grace
One question I always ask couples as they prepare to be married is, “Which one of you usually apologizes first?” It does seem to be true that, in most relationships, one person tends to take the lead in apologizing either from some discomfort with conflict or more of a willingness to initiate reconciliation.
Years ago, after I asked that question of a couple and we had a conversation on the topic where it became clear that the man really had a hard time admitting mistakes, the woman called me up and asked for a private appointment. Once alone with me she said that her fiancé had never apologized for anything and she really didn’t think he was capable of ever apologizing. When we addressed that, the three of us together, his reaction was so defensive that the woman and I became deeply troubled. Even there he shifted blame quickly to his fiancé and even to me. After some soul searching, the woman called off the engagement. “He keeps pushing everybody away from him,” she said to me. “I can’t get close enough to tell who he really is.”
Maybe you know some people who are never wrong. Their view is always right. There’s a hardness in their statements. When they make mistakes, they won’t admit them and they find someone else to blame. It’s an overbearing demeanor revealing a very fragile insecurity. It’s like admitting a mistake will somehow cause their whole world to fall in.
When we do admit our mistakes and offer apologies what actually falls in is forgiveness and reconciliation. Honest, heartfelt apologies are nearly impossible to resist. “I’m so sorry. I was wrong and I hurt you. Please forgive me.” Just those words, sincerely offered, open the floodgates of grace in relationships. When someone genuinely wants our forgiveness, something inside us shifts and we almost cannot resist forgiving them. Until we see that willingness however, it seems nearly impossible for us to forgive.
On more than one occasion, Jesus tells the religious elite that the sinners are entering the kingdom ahead of them. He says that, not because the kingdom tolerates bad behavior, but because the sinners have repented. They have shown remorse for their actions. They have apologized. They have decided they want something different. They have honestly admitted their misdeeds. The religious elite, meanwhile, are stuck in defensiveness, refusing to admit that they need to apologize in any way.
I think it’s true that the kingdom of God is open to anyone who wants in. And I think that means it is closed to those who don’t want in. Whenever they change their mind and want in, then it’s open to them. But as long as I don’t want God, I won’t have God. Refusing to repent is the same as saying I don’t want God’s kingdom. It keeps pushing God away. God is a remarkable lover, I might add. I do think he’ll keep pursuing us until we decide to repent, until we decide we want him in our lives. But until we admit our need, God won’t force himself on us. God sends us forgiveness in Christ Jesus and asks, “Do you want forgiveness?”.
Many of our words in our various Episcopal liturgies speak of our need for repentance. That’s not to keep us mired in shame; it’s intended to remind us of our need to repent, apologize, and be open to the grace God offers. “I don’t want your help” is a statement that pretty much shuts down relationships. Sometimes we do that with God as we refuse to admit mistakes, refuse to repent.
What’s amiss in your life? Who are you blaming for your situations? What sort of pain are you trying to fend off with your defensiveness? Honestly admit the nature of your wrongs. Repent and watch grace fall in.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Adult Sunday Morning Classes September 9 – October 28 at 9:15
Practicing our Faith – A Journey through the Book of Common Prayer
Led by Jamie Osborne, meeting in the Library
Living the Good News – A Discussion of the Sunday Morning Scripture Lessons
Led by Dudley Perry, meeting in the Small Dining Room
The History of St. John’s – A Look at the People and Events Since 1834
Led by Robert Wisnewski, meeting in the Parish Hall
Wednesday Night Series September 26 – October 17
Eucharist at 5:30, Supper at 6:00, Classes at 6:30
The Ethics of War – A Class for Adults
Led by Deonna Neal, meeting in the Parish Hall
Harry Potter and the Gospel – A Class for Children
Led by Sarah Collier, meeting in the Classroom Building