Several years ago, I repented to God for something small. I hadn’t stolen candy from a baby, oppressed a widow, or coveted a neighbor’s cow. I had simply failed to control my eating.
During the previous six months I had lost ten pounds. Then, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I found them again in cookies, pies, and chocolates (and only once from the hand of an infant).
So I prayed, “God, I’m sorry about my poor self-control; I’ll stop eating between meals, and I’ll stop buying those tempting snacks.” I sensed God sigh, “Stop!”
I thought, Okay, I get it. That’s not the only area I lack self-control, so I prayed, “God, that person from church is irritating the heck out of me, my thoughts are like untamed beasts. I will stop criticizing and start to domesticate my mind.” And God said, “Stop!”
A flood of other uncontrolled areas came to mind, and I willed myself to do better. I felt God shout, “STOP!” I stopped. And this time I just shut up.
What Was So Bad?
What was wrong with my repentance? I had admitted a weakness and decided to change. Isn’t that textbook repentance? Isn’t that “turning from our sins”? Not the way I did it, and not the way most of us do it.
I had briefly mentioned some weaknesses but then I quickly moved on to my solutions.
This time when I “repented” I sensed God ask me to pause in my weakness and shame; to pause in my moment of confession—to pause before my repentance, before my resolve to change.
Because my repentance was simply self-serving. Sure, I snuck in a humble confession, but then I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and told God how I would do better. I presented myself to God on the basis of my future behavior.
And I felt better about myself. I had plans. I had resolve. And it was a New Year. I was going to make something of myself. God would do well to forgive me. He’d be proud he backed me. If this was a horse race, I was a good bet. (If I lost those ten pounds again.)
I was covering my shame with plans for self-improvement. And God asked me to pause in the moment of confession; just to stop right there. Uncovered.
The Never-Ending Audition
My self-serving repentance was little more than trying to get God to like me. And my pathetic promises for better behavior began to sound stale even to me.
It was like the longest job interview ever; a never-ending audition for the coveted role; seventeen years of dating with no engagement ring in sight. I was performing on stage before God, and I was stumbling over my lines.
Just Stop Right There
Pausing in confession—resting before resolving—does something everyone hates. It abandons all pretense to power. It means standing unclothed in front of the God of the universe, and just standing there naked (and overweight). No willpower. No resolutions. No great ideas. No fig leaves. Just an inner abandonment of all our posturing.
We really hate this. Something inside us clamors for a hint of worthiness, a sense of merit, a value we can contribute; convincing God that we’re a good bet, a sure thing, we have a good heart.
We need to come empty, neither auditioning for a role nor interviewing for a job, empty in our humility.
The power of the pause
I’ve been learning to pause in my confession; to stop after admitting my failures; to rest before repenting.
The audition is over. Let’s remove the makeup and costumes; let’s quit acting the hero; and let’s come before God as we are. True repentance is letting go of self in naked confession in the presence of the Lord.
It is far, far better to abandon our pride in the presence of someone we love than it is to lose someone we love because of our self-conceit.
“True repentance is letting go of self in naked confession in the presence of the Lord.” Well put and helpful metaphor, hearkening all the way back to what could have been in the Garden. Thanks for this Sam.
Yes, back to the garden where we refused to confess (“It was the woman…that YOU made”) and just come naked.
We haven’t learned much, have we.
This encouraged my soul this morning. Thanks, Sam!
Thank you, Sam. I too have tried every excuse and method in the book to take away my sense of defeat in conquering my repetitive “sin” in my life. Being that I have been accused of trying to control most things and people in my life, I must admit that there is a element of truth in this matter. So, I call out to God, and plead for Him to help me in this matter of self-control [like eating too much, which I do] I find myself doing it again and again. I do recognize my sin and then convince myself that if I confess it before God, He will make it go away and I do not have to participate! God always does His part, I struggle to do mine. I keep going back to to Paul – ” why do I do – why do I not do ?? “. A vicious circle until we recognize what is really happening. I continue down this road, believing and trusting that the answer and resolution lies before me. Len Wisniewski
I think God loves to have us come to him. Even (maybe especially) in our deepest need and weakness.
We (on the other hand) want to come to God in our Sunday best. (Which are just fig leaves anyway.)
Have you been following me around? Have you been watching me? Were you writing that specifically for me? Convicting. Relevant. Personal.
No following you around, just kindred spirits suffering kindred curses of self-fixing.
From one brother to another,
Aaaaargh, yes I even find an aspect of “performance “ sneaking into what I intended as humility!
You betcha; we come to God in humility, and then we congratulate ourselves on our humility.
Boy do we need God!
Another good post Sam! Hits home. And I noticed in your tale there were too many “I” s. I this, I that, just like I do. I keep trying and I keep failing. I means alone, I says ego, I states a self sufficiency that will never be sufficient since it contains the word self. For me, it’s got to be a we. More than once God has told me to stop yammering about what I’m going to do and just reread the plan!
I, uh, I feel, uh I am convicted 🙂
Sam, this caught my attention and speaks to me where I am right now. Confession can be not only admission of sin but an invitation for God to do what only he can do in our hearts. I agree with the “pause” concept. Part of it is that there is a time to stop talking and start listening. I am praying about how this applies to our horizontal personal relationships as well. Can there can be a power in pause following our confession of guilt before asking forgiveness and repenting to the person? They probably need a moment to process, to be heard and perhaps confess their hurt before moving to forgiving and reconciling.
Perhaps this is a topic for another of your posts.
You are touching on a great point. When I wrong my wife (I wanted to say “if” I wrong my wife … but she will probably read this 🙂 ), when I wrong my wife, I bet it does her heart good when I simply admit the wrongness of my doing. No excuses or promises; just pure confession.
Of course, a change in the future is needed, but let’s not rush too quickly out of the “I did you wrong” phase.
Excellent. Thank you.
Good point Sam, as Christian Believers, we assume we can turn it all over to Jesus… and we can. The problem is we always want to “take it back” and “do it ourselves.” As you clearly point out, it is not up to us to “manage our repentance”. it is up to God. We need to confess, but then, as you say. the turning around to a different direction (repentance) needs to be orchestrated by God, not us. I remember tales of Medieval monks lashing themselves with Cat-O-Nine tails as repentance for impure thoughts. The point of Christianity is not to change our behavior “in the best way we know how”, but rather to allow Jesus to change us in the way He knows is best for us. Amen?
I really think this whole issue relates to intimacy with God.
We can try to bolster our ego and lose that intimacy or we can lost that pride and grow in intimacy.
Which will we choose? To look good, or just to shut up after confessing?
A painful lesson. I recognized myself in every word. I need to use this humbling pause.
So great to hear from you.
While the pause is humbling (humbling indeed), it is also hopeful. We all want to be love deeply, and the only way to be loved deeply is to be known deeply. In that humble pause, we say to the Lord, we want you to know us deeply.
And the amazing thing is, He wants us to know him too.
Thanks Sam. I’m blown away once more by the wonderful ways God works. The concept and the particular subject matter (food) are issues I’m working on right now. First God led me to Biblical Nutrition, then to J. Ortberg’s book I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me which is all about intimacy with self, others and with God, and now this. I can see the shape of something growing that I pray is His path off my merry go round. I will pause, I will be still and accept His invitation to know Him better.
God’s timing in multiple lives always amazes me.
Better yet is to confess your weakness before God and ask him to strengthen you and help you through your trial so that he might get the glory.
Very enriching post. This will and is causing me to grow and will consequently impact multiplied others that I share life with. Thank you!