The Gift of Repentance

When Lorraine Hilliard was a young mother, she had a china hutch where she kept some of her family heirlooms.  She also had an inquisitive four-year old who liked to explore.  One day Keith pulled open the drawer at the bottom of the hutch and climbed into it.  The hutch toppled over, but fortunately neither Keith nor any of Lorraine’s other treasures were broken.

Patiently but firmly, Lorraine explained to Keith why it wasn’t a good idea to stand in the drawer and told him not to do it again.  Not long afterwards, Keith again climbed into the drawer with almost the same result.  This time, however, he broke a crystal decanter set—the very last gift that Lorraine’s grandmother had given her before she died.  All that remained of the set was the unbroken, glass stopper.

Lorraine sat on the floor and wept—not so much in anger at her son, but more in sorrow for losing one last connection to her grandmother.  As Keith tried to console her, Lorraine spoke to him with tears in her eyes, “I’m very sad, Keith.  This was the last present my grandmother gave me, and now I will never be able to get another one from her.”

When Keith saw his mother’s sorrow, he too began to cry, and soon mother and son sat on the floor, holding each other and crying together for their loss.

One of the religious words that has received a lot of bad press in our generation is “repentance.”  For some reason repentance conjures up pictures of an angry, threatening God, and cowering sinners who hope that if they act sorry God will not punish them.  However, I believe that repentance looks more like what happened between Lorraine and her son. 

At its heart repentance is compassion for the one I have wounded.  It is using my heart to fully comprehend the hurt that I have done to the other and to open myself to the other’s pain.

Typically, when we hurt someone we do one of three things.  First, we may protect ourselves by refusing to admit that we did anything wrong, or by rationalizing it away.  Second, we may be so afraid of losing the affection of the other that we go crawling back to them.  Third, we may turn the hurt inward and beat ourselves up.  All three of these responses are focused on ourselves and not the one that we have wounded.  We say, “I didn’t do anything wrong!” “I couldn’t bear to lose you!” “I’m such a bad person!”

But none of these words show any sign of true repentance, for true repentance is focused not on the self, but on the other.  True repentance is not self-defensive, self-pitying or self-recriminating.  It was only when Keith felt his mother’s sorrow that he sat down on the floor and wept with her and “repented.”  The result of his repentance was that mother and son drew closer to each other.  Far from his repentance being something bad, it was something good.

Notice that repentance is not something that we do for God; rather it is God’s gift to us.  If Lorraine had lashed out at Keith, he would have retreated in fear and hurt.  Because she opened her heart to her son, Keith came to genuinely understand what had been lost.  Ultimately, it was Lorraine’s openness and love that created in Keith the gift of repentance.

The same is true of God.  Before the Apostle Paul became a believer he violently persecuted the church.  However, on the road to Damascus, he met Jesus who didn’t rise up in anger and strike him dead.  Rather, Christ asked him a poignant and vulnerable question:  “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:5).  It was at that moment that God gave Saul the gift of repentance, and the persecutor became the preacher.  It is always God’s love and never his anger that creates in us the gift of repentance, whether we are a violent criminal or a four-year old child.

© October 28, 2018 by Rev. Michael A. Weber.
For permission to reprint please contact the author at

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