the hard work of repenting

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.

I’ve been thinking about that temptation today, the idea of the broadcast confession, and I remembered a Don Miller caution about sharing goals. He quoted Derek Sivers who said

“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

9 thoughts on “the hard work of repenting

  1. Rich Dixon

    Given my personal story, I often wonder if I’m confessing or sharing with pure motives. Sometimes it seems like there a competition for the most pathetic history.

    I hope I’m repenting rather than just seeking attaboys, but I’m not so sure. When you’re good with words, you can twist things around and fool folks. But you can’t fool God.

    I wonder what He thinks.


  2. Jon Swanson

    Here’s what I think when I think of you, Rich: you are embedded in the 4th calvary (sic), reporting from the front lines of following Jesus. Sometimes we affirm, but that’s part of being brothers and sisters. And saying, as you are, “God, please let this help you not distract others” is what matters.

    When we talk publicly AFTER the private conversation, it’s reporting. When we talk publicly INSTEAD OF the private conversation, that’s when we’re running the risk of being merely self-serving.


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