When I mess up, I want to tell everyone. I want to be the worst person in the world.
Because if I’m the worst person in the world, there’s a particular status in that. Even in the awfulness, there is notoriety.
“People who talk about their intentions are less likely to make them happen. Announcing your plans to others satisfies your self-identity just enough that you’re less motivated to do the hard work needed.”
For goal-setting, this means that often, the buzz we get from people being impressed with our goals means that we never get around to the goal. The hard work isn’t needed because we got affirmation.
The more I think about it, I wonder if that happens with large confessions sometimes. When we confess to the whole world, we know that there are people who will affirm us: “everyone fails.” It feels, if not good, then at least affirming. However, when we talk specifically and only to the person(s) we sinned against, whether God, a spouse, a friend, a colleague (or all of the above), we’re not going to get the empty affirmation. We may get forgiveness, but we know that we are going to have to rebuild trust, rebuild relationship. That’s the really hard part.
That rebuilding part is what’s called repentance. Repenting is turning around. It’s going the other way. It walking toward instead of away from. It’s a thousand steps back. If confession is a quick release of pressure, repentance is a gradual, often painful, construction process.
But here’s the deal. When we start with confession, especially to God, those repentance steps aren’t alone.
For one poetic reflection on this process, here are David’s words after a murderous affair: Psalm 51.
And here’s a video version of this post: The hard work of repenting