Christians suffer grievously from the negative associations that have grown up around many of the words that are an integral part of our spiritual tradition.
Many people find their backs getting up if they are told that they need to “Repent”. The word conjures images of a wild-eyed prophet standing on the street corner announcing that the end of the world is at hand and, if we are to be saved from the coming cataclysm, we need to “Repent!”
Even if we can put aside this cartoon image, the word “Repent” carries negative connotations. It feels as if we are being told that we are bad and that we should feel guilty. “Repent” feels like a shaming word. And we know instinctively that shame never leads to life.
The Greek word in the New Testament that is translated “Repent” is metanoia. It is a compound word made up of the prefix meta meaning “change,” and noia, which means “mind”.
In its most basic sense, metanoia means “to change your mind”.
There are many things about which we need to change our minds.
If you think that winning the lottery is going to bring peace, harmony, and contentment into your life, you need to repent. You need to change your mind. If you think that having a new home, a new car, or a new outfit to wear is going to satisfy the deepest longing of your heart, you need to change your mind. If you think there is a perfect relationship in this world that can meet all your needs for intimacy, you need to repent. You need to change your thinking.
A lot of our thinking is insane.
Insane comes from the Latin insanus. It is another compound word made by joining in (not) with sanus (healthy). Insane thinking is thinking that is “not healthy.” It is thinking that leads to death rather than life.
When we find ourselves embroiled in drama, intensity, pettiness, and crisis, we are probably practicing insane thinking. When we are constantly restless, uneasy, irritable, and edgy, there is a good chance our thinking has become insane.
To repent is to see where our thinking is insane and to think differently
Repentance is a call to honesty. If we are honest, we know where our thinking is insane. We know which are the thoughts that torment our brains and disturb our inner being. And when we admit that our thinking has become insane, it begins to change.
The solution to insane thinking is seeing it for what it is. We do not need to exert great effort or will. We only need to observe clearly and acknowledge honestly the impact our thinking is having in our lives. Once we have been willing to see the insanity of our thinking, our thoughts will begin to change.
Lent provides an opportunity for us to consciously and intentionally examine our thinking.
Where has my thinking become insane? What are the unhealthy thoughts I continue to harbour? What benefit do I hope to achieve by pursuing this sick line of thought? What does my experience of life at this moment suggest about the state of my thinking? What are the healthy thoughts that is waiting to replace these insane thoughts?
Our natural posture is healthy thinking. We do not need to create healthy thoughts. Sane thinking resides in the depths of our being just waiting to emerge. Once we begin to become honest with ourselves, we will find our thinking becomes more healthy.