With Lent drawing to a close as we step into Holy week I have been thinking about repentance. Specifically, I have been thinking about how hard it is.
I have three young kids, the oldest of which are five and three so we have done a turn or two with them on learning to take responsibility for choices and actions. Still, with every episode of misconduct or disobedience I marvel at how ingrained is their natural tendency to avoid blame. My daughter is one for intricate and complex explanations, which usually amount to some version of, “He did it.” My son, a more to-the-point kind of guy, has an almost knee-jerk response in asserting, ‘It wasn’t me.”
It is often laughable to watch the ways they will sidestep and hedge and point fingers even in the most obvious and silly circumstances. Yet their struggle, their downright refusal at times, to assert the simple words, “I did it; It was me,” is also a vivid reminder of how grueling it feels to utter those same words myself. Even in the most obvious and silly circumstances of blame and error in my own life, I find it almost never ceases to feel terrible.
Like much of the Christian life, repentance is a simple idea, but man, oh man, is it tough to actually do. It is not merely apology, or even the further step of apology and seeking forgiveness. These are essential components of course, but the precursor to repentance is an assumption of responsibility; the sad and embarrassing assertion: “I did it, it was me.” Yet this elementary concept, these simple words that I choke on when I dare utter them at all, is the crux of the gospel. Indeed, there is no life, no hope, no peace, without them. There is simply no getting around it.
Martin Luther begins his 95 Theses stating, “the entire life of believers [is] to be one of repentance.” It is a daunting requirement, one that feels unattainable in the face of my stubborn and easily wounded pride, but Easter gives me courage to try. God has seen and knows my sin, far-reaching as it is, and he has taken it into himself. He suffered, died, and rose so that even my most disabling traits and fears and failings no longer get the last word. On Easter morning when I utter the celebratory words, “He is risen” I am reminded it is precisely those three words that give me hope to summon the courage to utter three more: “I did it” or “It was me.”
Kate Harris is the former Executive Director for The Washington Institute, wife to a good man and mother of their three young children.