So, it seems like the turning would be the hardest part, doesn’t it? If you are headed down a road of your own choosing, recognizing that you are going the wrong way and deciding to turn around should be the most difficult step, shouldn’t it? I have not found that to be so. I have found two other parts of repentance to be much more difficult — 1) keeping my eyes from looking back, and 2) continually stepping forward.
Here’s the thing — walking down the road of my own choosing causes a ton of collateral damage. You would think that once I realize this, I would want to turn quickly toward a path of safety and run just as fast as I can. Not so. I am drawn to looking back at all the wreckage. I get lost in regret and what ifs. I keep thinking, “Oh my gosh, why did I do that? Why couldn’t I see how much I was hurting myself and others?” My eyes turn back and guess what happens next; my feet follow. Just that quickly I have lost my way again.
I can lose hours of my time paging through the photo albums of poor choices and missed opportunities. I mean, I can still lose sleep over the way I treated a childhood friend in 1972. A terse word with a student can occupy my thoughts all evening. I can make myself physically sick by rehashing parenting decisions and formulating ways to do things differently. It’s as though I think I can rewind the movie, cut out the scenes I don’t like, and splice in a version of how I wish it would’ve played out. But we can’t do that. What happened happened. I can’t undo what I did, and I can’t undo what others did. I can’t, but for some reason, my brain still wants to pretend as though I can.
And I think I know why. My mom and I were sitting side by side last week, watching the Olympics and lightly chatting. I mean, I thought it was light chatting until she said something about getting lost in her regretful thoughts. She said that she can spiral downward very quickly when she starts thinking about the mistakes she has made in her life, but when she feels herself doing that she says, “Get behind me, Satan!” I about jumped out of my rocking chair — she had hit the nail on the head! If the enemy can get my eyes turned toward regret, my feet follow. He just has to grab my chin and turn my gaze toward what I did wrong in 1983 or 1998 or 2004 and pretty soon my whole body has made its way back to a path of my own choosing and I am no longer aware of Jesus walking beside me. I can’t hear his voice any more. I don’t care to look into his eyes. I am a soldier on a mission to make things right, and you’d better get out of my way.
But, guys, I can’t make things right.
It won’t work.
I can’t undo what’s been done.
And I’m not supposed to try.
In these moments, I need the second part of the clause, but, so often, I miss it.
I hear, “repent,” but I don’t seem to hear “believe the gospel.” Or maybe I hear the words, but I don’t understand the message. I mean, what is the gospel, after all? It’s God’s commitment to me — He already knows that I am human, that I am bent on turning, and that I cannot of my own strength follow Him. He knows that I am going to continually walk down a path of my own choosing, and yet He has promised to be with me wherever I go. He doesn’t leave me or forsake me. He has seen all my lousy decisions. He has watched me ignore the people in front of me. He has seen me choose myself over others time and time again. And yet, He loves me. He has patience with me. He forgives me. He continually chooses to walk beside me, to reveal himself to me, and to allow me the time and space to choose over and over again to turn away from my destructive path and toward His Way.
And that is not all. He is in the business of redemption and restoration. He takes the wreckage from my past and transforms it into beauty. It’s beyond my comprehension. I thought my parents’ divorce was the end of my life, but God used that experience to prepare me to be the wife of a divorced man and the mother of his child. I don’t hold my husband’s past against him. It’s just part of his story, and now it’s part of mine.
In the mid-80s, I was anorexic. My whole life revolved around reducing the amount of food I ate and thereby reducing the amount of me. I was on a path of destruction that many never walk away from. However, God, in his grace kept walking beside me, he kept talking to me, and before I knew it, I had turned around. I was worried that I might have done irreparable damage to my body and that I would never have children, but my worries were for nothing, because God is in the business of redemption and restoration. Not only did he restore my physical and emotional body, he has used my path to minister to others who have similar stories.
Time and time again, I’ve heard stories of people who have witnessed God transforming much greater disasters into stories of restoration. It is what God does. He creates, he redeems, he restores.
Lately I’ve been spending way too much time in the photo albums of regret. There is a time and a place to look back and grieve. Sometimes we need to spend seasons in mourning. However, when mourning turns into self-blame and punishment, it’s time to close the album for a bit. It’s time to turn around, walk down the path that has been designed for me, listen to the voice of the One walking beside me, gaze into His eyes, and recognize that He is in the business of redemption and restoration.
God is faithful, and He will do it.
11 You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
12 that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever.