Archives, Orlando, Pondering

Posture of Repentance

Our souls are created to look “up and out,” not “down and in.” One of the important implications of this reality is how we come to understand the mess inside, and then what to do with it. If “down and in” is a place where self talks to self, it is a closed system. I go on talking and listening to me in a self-defeating monologue. The default drive of wellness in me was made for dialogue, first with God, then with our world.

So what might this mean during this desert passage through Lent, where we so often link going to the desert with self-examination? Or, to quote a frequent exhortation from the desert fathers, “Go to your cell, and your cell will teach you everything?” As we lean into love, we also need to clarify how to look at our unruly passions that prevent us from loving. And in this matter, our intuition is not very helpful and our cell only begins to be helpful after we’ve banged around in it awhile.  All we will find within ourselves is a tangled jungle that needs to be patiently and intentional untangled. When I look down into myself, trying to dredge up the impossibly tangled bondage that lack of love holds in my life, I am confronted with three issues.

*In which order should I pay attention to this jungle of cords, supposing I can get them untangled?

*How do I name each cord clearly enough to bring it to the Lord?

*How do I experience real forgiveness when I do desire to repent of a particular lack of love?

For the first half of my life I approached my soul in this manner, and all I got was a mass of introspective meanderings. Now I know why: nothing worth knowing comes from gazing down and in. I could not order my own soul’s healing, I could not see clearly enough to know what was going on in the deep structure in my being. Too often I would find, to my relief, something I could dredge up. Then I would compose my own laws that I believe I have transgressed. 

Unfortunately, the Lord is not in the business of freeing me from my own arbitrary laws. The key to transformative “self-evaluation” is found at the end of the wonderful Psalm 139, which begins with “Oh Lord, you have searched me and known me!” The Psalm ends with: Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! See if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”

“Up and out” is not only the posture of loving. It is also the desert posture of listening, repenting and receiving restoration. In this posture we are available to hear what God actually might be saying to us. Search me! Try me! Lead me! So, how does such an approach flesh out in practice? “Lord, I don’t know what is going on inside, why I feel so restless, so out of control, so angry. But you do. I look to you to show me my heart, and I wait in expectation for you to speak to me.” Such a posture is a patient dialogue with God, and quickly cuts through the strange disconnect between a “quiet time” and the rest of life.

My sister, Pam, with three children and a grandchild to keep her hopping, has often said, “God is not looking for a quiet time, so much as for a quiet heart.” Our everyday lives can become an open-hearted quest for the truth about our souls. We find the Lord speaking to us through his word, through creation, through art, through each other—in his way and his timing for each one of us. Here’s the enormous difference to our souls when we ask God to search our hearts:

*He knows just what to bring to the surface, and when. He does not show us more than we can bear at any one time.

*He names for us the particular tangled space in our souls, and we know the release of clarity that enables us to confess the real sin and need.

*Standing in the stream of his steadfast love and his law, we ask forgiveness for real things, and, in response, we know real forgiveness. If there is to be reconciliation with another, we have discernment as to our part in such a matter.

I long to articulate this approach to desert examination as winsome and compelling as it really is intended to be in our lives. In the days to come, as I look at the unique patterns of soul imprisonment identified in the desert, I hope to lead us into this kind of dialogue with God, that we may indeed experience deeper freedom to respond in love to God and the world. May we continue to learn to live “up to God and out to the world,” and from that space, may we taste the joy and freedom of walking in love as Christ loved us.

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