Unfortunately, for too many people, we grew up believing it was about “feeling bad.”
There’s a big difference between the two. And that difference is summed up in this year’s theme for Lent at Kessler Park United Methodist Church:
The word that gets thrown around a lot during Lent is “repentance.” And unfortunately, perhaps this word, more than any other, has messed up Christians along the way.
To “repent,” for far too many of us, has come to mean “to feel feel bad.”
But that’s not actually what repentance is. The word’s most literal meaning is “to turn in a new way.” There’s no emotional baggage to it, whatsoever.
(Or, there doesn’t, by definition, have to be…)
It’s a decision, or a calling by God, to move in a new direction in life, through our actions, and how we live.
Somewhere over the years, though, that whole meaning got lost. My fantasy is that hundred of years ago, there were clergy who felt like people weren’t feeling bad ENOUGH. So they doubled-down on making people feel bad for their choices during Lent, and the whole season became pretty dark and depressing.
Somewhere along the way, the Church took the whole season of Lent into a very somber and serious place. “Turning in a new way” got replaced with “feeling bad.”
Please understand me, all this is not to minimize feeling sorrow for our past-actions, regretting past mistakes, and most importantly apologizing and making amends with those we have harmed. They are DEEPLY important for us and for those around us.
But too often we stop before we are done. Too often, we get caught in what psychologists sometimes call a “shame spiral.” We *excel* at feeling bad. We spiral down into shameful thoughts that paralyze us. We can’t stop thinking and ruminating on past actions we regret. Even worse, others of us feel an overwhelming sense of shame about our personhood and life, that come from harmful messages we internalized from others. Some of us feel shame ALL THE TIME.
Some of us feel shame all. the. time. For things we haven’t even done….sometimes we feel the shame of society, or the Church, or parents, or some other internal voice that never stops.
So, Lord knows, we don’t need the CHURCH piling on.
The “shame spiral” is paralyzing.
But, don’t miss this huge irony….it also keeps us from true “repentance!” That is, shame can keep us from turning in new ways that lead to live, health, wholeness and love.
So, this Lent, we’ll be focusing more on “repentance” in its original meaning: “To turn in a new way.”
And we won’t be focusing at all on it’s cultural meaning —“To feel bad or shameful”— at all.
When we “turn in a new way,” when we reconnect with God and feel God’s presence in our lives, it creates “At-ONE-ment.” with God….being ONE with God…connected to God at a deep and real level. We remember that, however God created us, we are GOOD children of God. God wants us to do things that give us life, freedom and happiness. God wants us to be AT ONE with God.
That’s the real meaning of Lent. And I hope you’ll join us for worship this season as we unpack all of this over the coming weeks.
Grace and Peace,