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Tag: repentance

Creative Lent #4: The Garland

I wrote a letter to the Prime Minister today.

I write to my MP on a fairly regular basis –  after all, this is a democracy and I can’t moan about things from the sidelines and then refuse to act and blame someone else for the results. But I don’t write to the PM very often at all. I don’t know whether she’ll read it, or whether it will reach her in time, but I’ve sent it none the less. It’s a letter which has burdening me for some time, but which I’ve been struggling to phrase.

Unless you’ve been living in the wilds of Scotland  for the last twelve months (and some people have, for a Channel 4 reality TV show), you can’t have escaped the news that the UK is on the brink of leaving the EU. Not just politically, but also the Single Market, which affects our trade and employment agreements along with a bunch of other things. Various people have been ringing warning bells, but with no effect apparently, as our leadership seems diligently and wilfully committed to throwing the UK off a political and economic cliff.

I could happily work up a head of steam on the subject, but I’m going to steer away from that and instead draw out something from the letter which I wrote: I suggested to the Prime Minister that the only reason for not changing course from our current trajectory was human pride.

“It was human pride that pushed aside a major decision to an ill-equipped public. It was human pride that took the ‘easy’ way out and opted for a process which will cause more harm than good. And it is human pride which refuses to back down and admit that this may not be the best course of action after all.”

I went on to suggest that “The only way to change the course of history now, would be to admit that this ‘hard Brexit’ is a mistake and that you were wrong. Do you have the courage to do such a thing I wonder? To be a leader like no other in history, before or since?”

Now it’s all very well to be angry at someone from a distance and to accuse them of wrong-doing, but the Bible reminds us that we should not judge, lest we ourselves are judged. And I have been judged – and rightly so. I have made mistakes which have affected those close to me, whom I love, and some of those mistakes, even though I’ve apologised, can’t be undone. Granted, I haven’t made the kind of decisions which affect an entire nation…but each person within that nation, just as each person within my family, is as important to God.

It got me thinking about repentance – the attitude of being sorry, of admitting that we’ve done something wrong. Repentance is one of the three themes I’m reflecting on during Lent this year, as well as Rest and Restoration.

Repentance is the mindset that is willing to admit to mistakes and take responsibility for them. To repair what has been broken and replace what has been lost. But repentance shouldn’t be forced on someone, otherwise it’s not genuine or sincere – that’s the kind of circumstance when a parent forces an errant child to ‘say sorry’ which they then do grudgingly and then as soon as the adult is out of earshot they start being naughty all over again.

A forced repentance can also have disastrous consequences later down the line: consider the ‘Reparations’ which the German nation was forced to pay to the Allies after World War I. None of those involved in the conflict had clean hands, but the penalty Germany had to pay crippled the nation and made the ground fertile for Nazi ideology which might never had taken root, if the Allies had treated Germany differently.

Forced repentance can create brokenness, bitterness and resentment, which yields a bitter fruit later on. But conviction – that internal acknowledgement that something is wrong and needs to be put right – that creates the space for something different. As we yield our will to God or friends and family, as we acknowledge our mistakes, we can bend rather than break and in so doing, we can learn from our mistakes.

This brings me to this week’s piece: The Garland.

Made from supple twigs and woven in with leaves and flowers, The Garland  represents repentance.  Rather than being forced to bend and ultimately snapping in two, the twigs have been gently curved into shape and held in place with florist’s wire.

Sometimes we need help to see our mistakes and be able to learn from them. Discipline offered in love doesn’t always need to be harsh or severe in order to be effective.

Another thing to consider is that repentance affects change – but that requires choice. As soon as the florist’s wire is undone, the twig could whip out and resume its original shape, causing injury in the process. But if it’s bent in that position gently for a period of time, it will keep its new curved shape.

Repentance needs to be a willing act on our part, otherwise we aren’t open to seeing our mistakes and we can’t learn from them.

I have added flowers and leaves to this willowy wreath, which draws out the beauty of the wood – but the spaces where I have inserted them have only been created because the twigs were woven together and able to bend. If the twigs were inflexible and stubborn, if they had stayed straight, the flowers and leaves would have fallen straight off, and no garland would be possible. The twigs’ flexibility creates opportunities which would not otherwise exist.

Repentance can be fruitful.

So this then is my Creative Lent offering for this week: The Garland of Repentance.

May we all be gracious, patient and flexible, because of and in spite of our mistakes, in order that we can learn and love one another more fully.

 

Creative Lent #2: The Rucksack

My second reflection for Lent is around the theme of repentance, and nothing says ‘repentance’ like Yoda and a rucksack.

Not convinced? I’ll explain…

My children have been enjoying some videos on YouTube by a group called ‘Bad Lip Reading’ and I must admit, it is very clever and quite funny (for the first 2-3 times at least…) One of the videos focuses on a conversation between Luke Skywalker and Yoda whilst in training on Dagoba on the subject of Seagulls.  During this exchange Luke says “you owe me an apology” and it got me thinking: why?

Why should anyone *owe* anyone else an apology? 

We talk about owing someone money which we’ve borrowed, or owing someone a favour, if they’ve done something for us, but how does that work with an apology? If we don’t admit to something, how can it belong to us?

Whilst this was ruminating in my brain for a few days, my daily Bible readings were taking an interesting turn. For a few days we had Psalm 32, which looks like this:

Psalm 32
Of David. A maskil.[a]

1 Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
2 Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.


3 When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.[b]


5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.

That part in the middle, verses 3 & 4 is very interesting and I wondered for a while what it meant: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away…your hand was heavy on me, my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer…” And then I realised, that heaviness, the weight described, is guilt or conviction.

Guilt or conviction is the internal acknowledgement which we hold when we know something is wrong or out of balance. It fidgets within us, restless and unsettled, all the while that the issue which caused it is unresolved. And the longer we ignore it, the stronger the feeling gets. In fact it becomes so strong that it takes more and more effort to ignore it.

It’s like wearing a heavy rucksack on your back, which you can’t see, but which you feel and carry with you. The rucksack is behind you; it bears down on your neck and shoulders and all the while it’s unresolved it gets heavier and heavier. Sometimes it’s been there so long, we actually get used to it, and we struggle to remember a time when it wasn’t there…

But why do we carry such a weight if we don’t have to?

I wonder if the fear of facing or resolving such an issue is what compels us to avoid it? We’re frightened of admitting the wrong-doing in the first place, and the longer we leave it, the harder it is to face and the weightier the issue becomes. Eventually perhaps, we start behaving differently, walking with a limp as it were, because we’ve become so accustomed to this extra weight, we’ve learnt to compensate for it. Maybe we feel it’s taken so long to resolve the original issue that in fact we ought to be bearing this additional burden, as some kind of punishment or penance for not having resolved the issue originally…

But here’s the thing: until we own the guilt, we can’t be free of it.

Until we can acknowledge to ourselves and God, and maybe our loved ones, whatever it is that has burdened us – until we can own and accept our mistake, we can’t let it go.  We can’t be set free from something which we don’t own. I can’t pay back money I don’t owe, or repay a favour which no-one did for me first. And I can’t be forgiven for something which I haven’t yet confessed.

It’s not until we admit to ourselves the guilt we’ve been carrying – the rucksack on our back – than we can take it off and be free of it.

And that takes courage – to admit to ourselves and others about the guilt which burdens us. But the words in the Psalm remind us about what awaits when we do:
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.


6 Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
will not reach them.
7 You are my hiding place;

you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.

We don’t have to carry that weight around. We are not destined or fated to be burdened in that way. The ‘rising waters’ need not reach us. God doesn’t want to punish us for all eternity, in some cold, hard-hearted way. In fact the opposite is true: he sets himself to be our ‘hiding place and protector’. But until we acknowledge and accept our own wrong-doing and lay it down (admit it to ourselves and others) how can God forgive us and release us from it? We can’t yet be forgiven for something we haven’t admitted to. The equation doesn’t balance out.

And so this is my Creative Lent piece #2: a watercolour illustration of a rucksack, with a name label: “mine”. There is time, there is always time and space for all of us to acknowledge our mistakes and be freed from them. We are not destined to carry that guilt forever, and God who knows and loves you, doesn’t want that for you.

May we all find the courage to admit to our mistakes and take that step of faith which leads us to laying these things down, in the hope and trust that we can be forgiven and set free.

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