Feeling the Lord's Love in Repentance 
Friday, March 14, 2014
New Church Perspective in Abigail Smith, Lord's love, hope, repentance, spiritual growth

This week Abby takes a fresh look at the concept of repentance in her life—a concept that once made her feel heavy and stuck now genuinely lightens her load. She finds that this welcomed, new perspective on repentance aligns more convincingly with her understanding of God's true nature—one of love and forgiveness. -Editor

By nature I am a person who tends towards negative, victimized ways of looking at my life. It has taken me years to nurture a more empowered and positive outlook. I feel like for the first time in my life I “get it” in a way that I never have before. Up until recently I think that any time I read the Writings or the Bible or really most any religious or spiritual work, I had the victim lens in front of my eyes. I understood the ideas, but they felt hard, depressing, and not particularly helpful in developing the happy, secure life I longed for. They didn’t feel like the evidence of an all loving and supportive God I hoped to have a meaningful relationship with. Everything felt sort of on the edges of application and realization in my life. But in the last 6 months things have changed for me, and I recently had a very uplifting and hopeful experience reading a passage I’ve probably heard many times before.

Being raised in a minister’s family, I have known the major ideas and teachings of the New Church for as long as I can remember. I don’t remember thinking about or hearing the word repentance for the first time, so obviously it’s been an idea that I’ve had in mind for years. I was recently reading the Seven Practices of Peace spiritual growth program produced by General Church Outreach and came across this sequence of quotes over a few pages (40-41). As I was reading them the idea of repentance struck me in a new way.

The first quote I read was:

“Active repentance is examining ourselves, recognizing and admitting our sins, praying to the Lord, and beginning a new life.” True Christian Religion 528

I have read or heard this quote enough times that at first I didn’t even really think about it. In the past it’s always the negative and hard things about it that have captured my attention: self examination is hard, it’s deep, it’s intense, and it’s only going to bring up bad things; recognizing and admitting my sins is also hard, and feels somehow dirty and embarrassing; praying to the Lord isn’t necessarily hard, but how often does it change anything? and so what about a new life. Those are the kinds of thoughts that usually went through my head when reading that type of quote. Nothing to make me feel the Lord’s warmth and love and support, but only more exhausting effort.

I went on and read another quote I’ve heard, but this one is less familiar, and is where I paused:

“Repentance present on the lips but not in one’s life is not repentance. Lip repentance does not cause sins to be forgiven; only repentance in life can lead to this...To the extent that our life is in keeping with [the commandments] our sins are removed; and to the extent that our sins are removed they have been forgiven.” Secrets of Heaven 8393

In the last few months one of the things I’ve been looking at and feeling the importance of at a new depth is forgiveness. And suddenly reading this passage again I felt the Lord’s love in it. Real repentance is a gift from the Lord. It is a pure example of His love in that it includes forgiveness. Repentance isn’t a time to focus on all the things we have done wrong that the Lord dislikes in us. It is permission from the Lord to see what has happened (or what feelings, actions, etc. are within us), feel it, understand it, recognize and identify it, and hand it all over. Ask for forgiveness. And then if we mean it, He forgives us. Washes it away, and doesn’t hold it against us. We don’t go forward with a burden, we go forward lightened. We have permission to try again, to get it better, and to still, no matter what, be loved and forgiven endlessly.

The feeling was brought home for me reading the next quote:

“Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.” Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

See, the negative, victim mentality tells you just that: You’re stupid. You made a mistake, and the only thing you can do is feel terrible about it. You ruined it, you can’t ever fix it. But that is the mentality that, for me, results in lip repentance only. Because I’m still stuck in the recognizing the sin. And I’ve seen the effects of that “undesirable sentiment” in enough ways to fill another several articles. But what struck me so strongly as I read this quote is that with the Lord, there are an infinite number of “next times.” It’s a part of what the New Church teaches about God that makes me feel like it’s worth believing in God - to know that He is ever loving. He never says that we’ve messed up too badly to be forgivable. He will ALWAYS love us.

But up to this point in my life I only saw repentance as a place where the Lord saw the worst in us. Saw our evil, our selfishness, our ugly hurtful inclinations. That is the side of the message that I heard. And that’s the side I acted out in my relationships. I messed up, they hate me now. And for days, weeks, or years, depending on the severity of the offense, I made it awkward. I wondered if that thing was all they were thinking of when interacting with me. I felt trapped and hampered and anxious because of that focus. But as I read through the quotes I felt empowered in an amazing new way. I never have to give up trying to make things right. I don’t have to be scared of trying to make amends. Sometimes there are hurts that go deep enough that people can’t forgive. But if I’m not stuck on the act, but rather focusing on how to make it right, even those situations no longer look hopeless and heavy, but can rather be filled with love.

And this is where I felt the Lord’s love in these teachings about repentance for the first time: the Lord doesn’t hold it against me. I have an infinite number of tries to make it right. The Lord doesn’t want me to be stuck in the crippling misery of identifying the sin. He’s the one who made the system, and the system is that through repentance

“our sins are removed; and to the extent that our sins are removed they have been forgiven.” Secrets of Heaven 8393

Abigail Smith

Abby Smith lives mostly moment to moment trying to live in the moment, trying to keep herself and her kids happy and healthy and balanced (like literally balanced and not falling over on to their foreheads, oh and not tooth-marked either). She is working on solving the problems of the world, and having a good - newly uplifting - time striving to use the teachings of the New Church to raise emotionally intelligent children. And she almost titled this article “Repentance is actually cheerypants” but decided it was a little too cheeky.

Article originally appeared on New Church Perspective (http://www.newchurchperspective.com/).
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