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To Repent Or Not To Repent

Updated on October 7, 2012

Films About Ghosts

Counting Crows play the blues with a rare melody and eloquence. Upbeat tempos aside, their introspective story songs explore the shadowy recesses of loss and loneliness. Adam Duritz, the lead singer-songwriter is an exceptional wordsmith who sorts through broken relationships, sadness and free-floating anxiety. He peals away layers of alienation and angst with an easy familiarity that somehow enriches our experience.

In Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby, he touches on the common regrets that come with being fully human: “If dreams are like movies, then memories are films about ghosts…You can never escape, you can only move south down the coast…”

Two Sad Words

We can never escape our past.  It had its day, but like a self-absorbed celebrity it refuses to leave center-stage.  It rushes in on us, attempting to shape our present and future.  We can revisit it again and again, but to carry the embers forward we must endeavor not to be influenced by the negative ashes of our mistakes and missed opportunities.  Memories, some good some bad, come out of nowhere to bend our knees and dampen our eyes.

Sometimes the bits and pieces won’t go away because they stir two of the saddest words ever put side by side; if only.  The difficult flashbacks bring all the “If only...” questions to the surface.

“If only I’d stayed in school.”  “If only I had not made that decision.”  “If only I hadn’t broken our marriage vows.”  “If only I hadn’t said those terrible words.”  “If only I’d watched my weight.”   “If only…if only…if only…”  The remorse can hammer at us with relentless disdain; all the wrong choices generate guilt that plagues our outlook, because an accusing conscience has no mercy.

No Excuses, No Rationalizations

We cannot change or fix our personal history because what’s done is done. Fortunately, our Creator desires that we learn from the past as we live in the present with our eyes focused securely on the future. Hope and optimism can come alive in our lives for they are byproducts of a properly aligned relationship with God. We achieve that by freely receiving the grace of Christ at Calvary.

God’s provision requires our acceptance of his conditions. We must confess known sin, deal with it and repent. True repentance is healthy sorrow for our sins and failings; the kind of sorrow that heals us from emotional quadriplegia. Repentance means taking responsibility for our choices and actions; no excuses, no rationalizations and no finger pointing.

Repentance truly is a foreign concept, especially in the context of our Oprahized culture of self-fulfillment. Out of step with the times or not, repentance provides freedom from the tyranny of the past.

Genuine Repentance

King David of Israel made a multitude of errors that most certainly carried grief and second thoughts.  All the “If only…” dilemmas of his life would stack up comparably with our lists.  The residue of bad memories could have easily defeated him, but his life was one of triumph.  He was well acquainted with discouraging lows for he did not make perfect decisions, nor was his life free from sin.  Yet he was called a man after God’s own heart because of his emphatic and life-transforming repentance.

Consider these passages of a prayer that erupted from the well of his soul:  “Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love.  Wash me clean from my guilt.  Purify me from my sin.  For I recognize my shameful deeds - they haunt me day and night.  Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight.  Remove the stain of my guilt.  Create in me a clean heart, O God.  Renew a right spirit within me.  Restore to me again the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.”  David comprehended that genuine repentance brings anguish that can renew purpose and restore perspective.

Pressing On

In that quiet chamber within, we must each bear witness to our films about ghosts. We will be imprisoned by their images or released from their chains, depending on whether or not we choose to live according to God’s terms.

Another phrase in Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby says: “And the price of a memory is the memory of the sorrow it brings.” Sorrow is a powerful force; it can paralyze us or heal us. The choice is ours to make. Debilitating sorrow wallows in an excess of self-actualization, but healthy sorrow results in repentance, which empowers us to lead lives of faith and vision.

To repent or not to repent? When the question arises and arise it will, we press on toward wholeness by faithfully providing a positive answer.


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    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 7 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Unchained Grace - Good stuff. Thank you for sharing an extended comment here. I appreciate the insights & perspective. Blessings.

    • Unchained Grace profile image

      Unchained Grace 7 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      Ken, I recently wrote a Hub entitled "How to fill the void of Loss" and in that, although there were no scriptures presented, the words of the Apostle Paul ring out in that we must leave what's behind us and press towards the mark. It sounds simplistic by itself, though if we really look at it, all the bad memories from the 'if only' times in our lives do nothing but provide an anchor to our abaility to move forward. To use those bad parts as a warning to ourselves and a testimony to others manifests itself as a victory providing we do repent and move on. Use those bad times as a teaching experience.

      God will not allow us to go through the press without a reason. Many times, the press He's put me through included one or more lessons. Now, what do we do with those lessons?

      The 'if only' times could be a chastening for our own procrastination.

      Ken, it sounds like you pulled some of Psalm 51 into this Hub and it fit. Read through it. Verse 12 indicates David had felt the glory of God before. Had he been a backslider? Yes. Was he saved at the time he spoke those words to God? His words indicate this was so. David for sure had many 'if only' moments and he knew that if you let them consume you, they act as one carrying a heavy suitcase. Sooner or later, ya gotta let it go or you're not going any farther.

      Well written, Ken. Sorry for the extended omment here.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 8 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Thanks, Keith. Yeah, I tracked you a bit on Facebook. Sounds like you had a blessed weekend. Missed you in Shipshewana.

    • profile image

      Keith Tyson 8 years ago

      "The choice is ours to make. Debilitating sorrow wallows in an excess of self-actualization, but healthy sorrow results in repentance, which empowers us to lead lives of faith and vision."

      Great stuff man!

      Glad to be able to read these again after a very busy week and a half.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 8 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      You're welcome, Neal. If you ever catch me forgetting that truth, hit me over the head with a shovel or something.

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      Rev. Neal Letteney 8 years ago

      "...repentance provides freedom from the tyranny of the past." Hallelujah! Thanks, Ken.