It’s the season of repentance. Of course, all year long, every moment and every day is a season for repentance, but it’s time for spiritual ICU. These next 55 days should be marked by a real intentionality of improved health. We don’t do vows and stuff, but what New Years resolutions are to secularity, Lent is to spirituality.
Growing up, Lent was my most dreaded and favourite time of year. Dreaded because as much as I wanted to ‘grow’ spiritually, I also felt the pain of knowing that I was about to lose my position of comfort. It’s like that feeling when you’ve decided to start going to the gym again. As much as I loved the idea of losing weight and feeling fit, I despised the idea (still do) of getting on that treadmill. What I loved was that once immersed in it, everything just started to work again. My spirit was giving its assent and approval of the work and it was tangible.
The problem is a lot of people don’t know what to do during lent. Sometimes we think repentance is crying a lot. Sometimes we think it’s about feeling super guilty. Sometimes we think it’s about beating our chests and screaming have mercy. Sometimes we think it’s saying ’spiritual things’ and praying the Horologion (aka Agpeya) more. Those are not repentance, even if they may be part of repentance.
You’ve all heard it a million times, repentance is just a change of mind. Yet, we might struggle with what that means. If you’re coming from a position of thinking legally about the sins you do (I’m suggesting you should think beyond this, even though it’s important), then what repentance means in this context is to stop doing them. It’s like someone who eats fast food non-stop can wake up and say, “Hey, this is not right. I will stop.” That’s repenting from fast food eating. Another person might say, “hey, I’m a liar. I will stop lying.’ That’s repentance from lying. It’s a change of mind and, consequently, behaviour.
Repentance does not have built into it any particular feelings, even though you might have feelings. By that, I mean, we shouldn’t confuse the possible consequences or personal features that accompany repentance for the repentance itself. If I stop eating fast food, I’ve repented from it, but it does not mean that I’m necessarily so happy that I don’t eat junk food. If I repent of laziness and hit up the gym, it does not mean that I have to be excited to go to the gym. Yet, I might be happy or excited or a whole gamut of emotions about those things. It’s just that those emotions are not the repentance itself. This is very important for us to understand spiritually. If we think that we’re supposed to be crying day and night because of our sins as a sign of our repentance, we are not only mistaken, we will probably struggle a lot with repentance, because we do not always find those tears.
So, one might ask, why do we sing and pray so much about tears when we talk about repentance? Well, because tears can be a sign of repentance, depending on one’s relationship with God. For example, if I love someone very much and I betray them, my repentance is to not betray again. But if I really love the person, I’m probably going to be feeling guilty about what I did. I’m not feeling guilty because my friend demands me to feel guilty, I feel guilty because I love my friend and I betrayed him. It is the same with God. If we are in a deep loving relationship with Him, when we transgress, we will likely have emotions about that. We all express emotions differently, so there’s no need to write about what one’s emotions ought to be, but we will have emotions of some kind if we care. The emotions should not be about a legal code, but about a problem in our relationship.
When we sin, we are spurning the gift that God gave us: His own identity. But we all do it. Me, you, the Pope…everyone. We all sin. We all spurn our birthright just like Esau did. We sell our birthright for less than what Esau did, actually. We spurn it for the most trivial of things. God said, I will make you (I didn’t have to), I’ll give you my own identity, and I will grant you to reign over the Kingdom with me. We say, ‘Oh, that’s so sweet of you. Can we talk about it after I finish watching this Netflix show?’ Or…worse.
What’s harder, I think, is that we often do not realise what we even need to repent from; we fail to recognise where we are actually missing the mark. This is where a spiritual director is really needed. Lent is the season of confession, not just for the saying your laundry list, but to get on a spiritual program and to get a spiritual diagnosis to know how to repent and recover our spiritual health. What you’ll find is that we often focus on the left-hand sins for repentance: stealing, lying, swearing, fornicating, dishonouring our parents etc… But we don’t always realise that our whole way of thinking is skewed, that we often have become so ‘conformed to this world’, that we do not even realise where we need to have a ‘change of mind’. It can be our outlooks on others, our spiritual theory of how to operate, the way Church or religion ’should be’, the way we approach our work, our colleagues, our families. It can be a whole host of things.
So, get off your computer and shoot a message or call to your spiritual guide and book an appointment. We shouldn’t let Lent come and go without some kind of change. It’s the most important time of the spiritual year and you should walk out of it different than how you walked in! If you would like a suggested framework for a spiritual program, maybe take a look at this and discuss it with your spiritual father.
At the very least, if you want this lent to be a reconciliation with God, it needs to start by reconciling with others. Today is the day where you connect with everyone with whom you have had any animosity towards or any ill-feelings, regardless of who you think is at fault, and reconcile. Forgiving is not the same as agreeing with someone or being okay with something wrong. It is saying that you absolve them of their debt, the same way you claim to God in the Our Father that you ask forgiveness of yours as we ‘we forgive those who trespass against us‘. Make it real.
Perhaps consider this lent to learn about how to pray, how to read, how to have a strong relationship with God all year, so that you even know what/how to repent! There are books, sermons, lectures galore. Just, start. Let’s unplug from our immersion into secularlity, podcasts, shows, and media obsession and devote sometime to our true selves: sons and daughters of the King. Let us have a change of mind from thinking and behaving like we’re just intelligent animals to thinking and behaving as who we are: the very children of God.
May the Lord grant us a spirit of repentance, and to fast an acceptable fast before Him.