—by Sarah Carson

Recently I got into a fight with my dentist’s office.

It started innocently. I received a bill I didn’t agree with, and I left a message asking for a $30 charge to be removed from my account. But when it took several rounds of phone tag to get a reply, I got irritated.

Then when the reply was not only a “no,” but a fairly unkind one, I got downright grumpy. I spent an hour drafting a strongly worded, self-righteous letter about the injustice of the fee, the shortcomings of their customer service, and the disrespectful way the receptionist had spoken to me.

As I was about to hit “print,” I stopped myself.

What are you doing? I thought. People are starving. Families are being separated by violence. The ice caps are melting. This is how you’ve spent an hour of your time?

This month Gather continues its three-part series on repentance, exploring how God calls us not only to acknowledge the errors of our ways, but more importantly, to change. If you’re like me, you’ve probably come to think of repentance as a form of apologizing—a way of recognizing wrongdoing and setting things right with God and those we’ve harmed. But as our Bible study author, Meghan Johnston Aelabouni, reminds us, the biblical idea of repentance comes from the word metanoia, which doesn’t mean “to apologize.” It means “to turn around” and “to change direction.”

Aelabouni writes: “We are trapped in an inward-focused spiral—and being ‘stuck on ourselves’ is a problem. We may view ourselves self-righteously, justifying our privileges or rationalizing our actions…(p. 21).”

Stuck on ourselves in a self-righteous,inward-focused spiral. You know you’ve been there too. You’re stuck in traffic when you have somewhere to be. Or your friend was supposed to meet you but hasn’t bothered to call. Or maybe you read something in a magazine that you didn’t agree with.

As Bev Stratton points out (p. 28), acknowledging the errors of our ways is only the first of many steps along the road to repentance. True repentance must compel action. “Confident in God’s grace, we dare to feel good guilt—the kind of guilt that invites us to be accountable to serve our neighbor…free to name our wrongdoings at the individual and societal levels, free to repent and free to change our behaviors,” Stratton says.

When I realized I had given far too much of my time to being angry about nonsense, I closed my laptop. I paid the bill. I thanked God that I had $30 in my bank account. And I gave another $100 to a nonprofit organization that would do much better things with the money than I would.

As Amy White asks (p. 35), “…if mercy had truly taken root in my life, wouldn’t it overflow from me right now?”

I’d much rather overflow with mercy than anger; with grace and peace instead of self-righteousness and rage. Repentance may not be as easy as giving in to frustrations and irritations, but our world could certainly be better for it. I hope this issue makes us all a little kinder; a little more eager to care for one another; a little quicker to turn, to change, to repent.

Sarah Carson is associate editor of Gather.

This article is from the October 2018 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.