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Repentance for me is a bloody process. I’m stalking 40 years of age, and my understanding of repentance is a much darker, more violent and powerful star than the “repentance is like a bar of soap” example given in the Primary cosmos.  Just as “milk before meat” is a component of the gospel, so is the real awareness of bringing “a contrite heart and broken spirit” to our personal altars before the Saviour.  The blood and profound change to His feet is as painful and fundamental as our own pivotal experiences are, leaving us marked and leaking on our way.

I’m searching for deeper examples of repentance, forgiveness, charity and patience not only because I’m parenting teens, but because my own heart and dedication wobble in the course of my days.  Soap’s useless when the issue at hand is internal, gory and nasty. Being washed clean as the first person in an entire family to join the church is a wonderful occasion, but the washing doesn’t rinse away generations of abuse, dysfunction and family habits.  Sometimes the repentance process involves not taking the sacrament, leaving deacons anxiously pressing trays to knees, encouraging to take the morsel, accept the love, unaware of the gnawing of bone going on inside, worrying our broken shards towards redemption somewhere further ahead.

Years ago, I cannonballed in love.  I was gleaning my confidence back after divorce, and kung fu pushed my shoulders back, ju-jitsu taught me to throw my frustrations to the floor, while the men at the kwoon showed me respect and encouragement. I loved my gi (sparring jacket), the people I met, the strength I found in my muscles and my focus.  I met the guy on the training mats, where we annoyed and bemused our sifu (sensei) by discussing Russian literature and movies while blocking punches.  He was devoted to the woo, sending me text messages of support, appreciation, flirty little notes and book recommendations.  He made love to my mind long before we kissed in the rain, the universe staggering around us from the colossal impact of lips, nerves and fluttering hopes.

I didn’t care he wasn’t LDS – he was kind, thoughtful, smart, attractive, attentive. Because for months before I met him I had an understanding blooming from my history and experience; while I knew God and Jesus Christ loved everyone, God loved me just a little bit less.  So I knew that my happiness wouldn’t matter as much, that it would be lower on His To-Do list… So I would take the happiness I could, and love it.

I loved him.  Me, who never thought I’d ever be able to love someone again, had somehow grown a Frankenstein’s monster of a heart, and danced in his arms alive, alive, alive!  I told my bishop, who cried, and I stated frankly that I wasn’t sorry.  I wasn’t.  Not then.

Two weeks later, I broke my own heart.  Do not doubt this: I loved that man.  But it was realising in my bishop’s office the previous Sundays that I already missed my God more than I would ever miss him, that I knew I had to stop what I was doing.  I broke up into pieces telling him we were done, having no answer that made sense to him, with no sense but bloody brokenness while I told him over and over again “I’m sorry, I can’t, I won’t, I’m sorry.”

My tears and leaky clumps of heart were the first things I put on the altar.  As I worked through my grief, my fury, as I stood at the fragile edges of my belief of Christ’s love for me, I bled great whorls onto the stone. My lack of understanding was crumpled onto the altar. I stumbled my way along repentance, accepting I couldn’t soothe the anxious deacons during sacrament, that I couldn’t avoid apologising to friends, that I wasn’t nearly as alone as I had felt before just lonelier…all rocks and barbed wire, spiny weeds and glowing embers added to the pile.  Repentance takes sacrifice, and part of mine took more than a tithe of embarrassment, vanity, truth telling and gut wrenching regret.

I also left my gi on the altar.  I didn’t go back to kung fu, stopped my martial arts lessons, for a whole handful of reasons the pile of black soft cotton was as tearstained and worthy a sacrifice as anything else I’d given.  Given, given up, it’s all accountable, known and weighed before God.

Repentance is simple, and awful, joyous and profound. Sometimes the altar may be two pebbles balanced on each other when a jerk cuts me off in traffic, sometimes it’s as huge and dangerous as my pride. What is left on the altar as a sacrifice before God, before Christ, are as individual as we are.  For some it is like washing with soap, leaving the stone slick and shiny.  Sometimes glistening comes from tears, sex or best intentions.  I know of family left on the altar, jobs, cakes, sarcasm, jokes, marriages, self-abuse, lies, books, habits and truth – every person a different collection, a different donation, a different broken heart and spirit.  The power of a broken heart is that it doesn’t work the same way ever again, that we break bones and spill blood to fix it, that we have to almost gut ourselves to get it working again, and then keep watching it, in case of ourselves.  It’s bloody, vital; it stains and sustains us.

I still wake, sometimes, feeling the edges of my gi between my fingers.  I know where it is, symbolically stacked neatly on my personal altar way back then, left to Christ for proof of my dedication, my determination to repent, to return to Him.  Sometimes though, I want to take it back, just for a minute, just for half a second…  But my broken heart thuds and reminds me that what I left on my altar wasn’t only proof of sin, but proof of life. A new life, this life, with all its mess and epiphanies, trials and thunderstorms, grudges and forgottens, back aches and heart breaks, altars spilling over, and each bruised hopeful step closer to home.

What symbolism or imagery do you have about repentance? Do you prefer the soap example given to kids, or prefer another example? How do you discuss repentance with different ages? Has your understanding of the process of repentance changed with age, experience and/or consideration?

13 Comments

  1. Heather B from SC

    January 26, 2016

    Dang, woman. You write so beautifully. I love you.

  2. Rosalyn

    January 26, 2016

    Kel, this is simply gorgeous. Reminds me of C.S. Lewis when he writes that true religion is much older and darker and yes, violent, than we like to think of it. It demands sacrifice.

  3. MB

    January 26, 2016

    A few years ago I encountered the idea of a “broken” heart being one that was “broken” like a horse is broken; changed like a creature that has learned to align its will and actions more with his master, developing a trust and loyalty that is constant and sure, though imperfect.

    Some of the “breaking” of my heart may be done with “horse whispering” sorts of experiences–experiences that come gently and consistently in my interaction with God over long periods of time. Others may come through bouts of bucking and charging as I fight against the task of learning and seeking His will. And some are a combination of both.

    Either way, the result, ultimately, “metanoeo”, which is the Greek word translated into “repent” in the New Testament. In this word, the prefix meta means “change.” The suffix relates to four important Greek terms: nous, meaning “the mind”; gnosis, meaning “knowledge”; pneuma, meaning “spirit”; and pnoe, meaning “breath.”

    Thus, when Jesus said “repent,” He asked us to change—to change our mind, knowledge, and spirit—even our breath.

    And I believe that the reason Jesus, as recorded in the scriptures, didn’t just say “Repent”, but he said “Repent, and come unto me” is because he needed to say what kind of change. That latter phrase tells us what it is that we are called to change to or change towards: Him.

    As a broken horse changes its will and attention to align those with the master that it has come to know and trust, so must our broken hearts.

  4. Lisa

    January 26, 2016

    Wow…such a beautiful way to illustrate the deeper, harder aspects of repentance. I too have been searching for “deeper examples” and found it in your story. Thank you for touching my soul especially when I’m feeling a little “less loved” today.

  5. Glenn Thigpen

    January 26, 2016

    I have never read a more graphic and well crafted (and courageous) description of the repentance process. Repentance is not easy. It is painful and searing. But necessary and cleansing. Learning how to forgive ourselves may be the hardest part.

    Glenn

  6. Janell

    January 26, 2016

    Beautiful and powerful.

    I think the soap analogy is Primary age appropriate Tiny Primary sins can often be wiped away with a bit of soap and water and better intentions. Every child knows of mud and bathtimes.

  7. Anne Marie

    January 26, 2016

    This is incredible. Such amazing writing

  8. Sarah in Georgia

    January 26, 2016

    Oh, Kellie, thank you so much for writing this. I was just trying to teach my kids about repentance today (as much as one can teach it to 2- and 4-year olds) but realizing that there was so much *more* that I needed to do … and then reading this. Thank you, for the courage to share and for developing the craft to do so in such a beautiful, moving way. So much for me to ponder.

  9. Keegan

    January 26, 2016

    I also think this is beautifully expressed. The theme of broken hearts have been coming up frequently in my life, so this was beautifully timed from my perspective as well. Thank you for sharing your talent of writing, your experience with repentance, and your insight.

  10. Sara

    January 27, 2016

    Beautiful. Thank you.

    I agree with Janell–soap is a developmentally appropriate analogy for younger minds and hearts. But you’ve captured the meaty side of repentance so well with maturity and heart.

  11. rhonda

    January 27, 2016

    Wow, That was amazing. You’re writing is amazing first off, but the way you described the repentance process was just perfect.

  12. Tiffany W

    January 28, 2016

    The only way I can speak about atonement is that it is the only way to be whole again. In working with a very broken young women, I could see how clearly and desperately she needed that atonement to put her life back together again. The difference was profound once she went through that process. I can’t even begin to describe the joy I felt as I watched it.
    Someone I love dearly has fought against the atonement with her whole being. I literally ache as I watch her hobble along, deeply wounded, and horribly broken. But she isn’t at a point where she is ready to go where you have gone.

  13. Lily

    January 28, 2016

    This is beautiful and I don’t mean to derail, but this struck me particularly hard:

    “while I knew God and Jesus Christ loved everyone, God loved me just a little bit less. So I knew that my happiness wouldn’t matter as much, that it would be lower on His To-Do list… ”

    When I hear statements of how much God loves each of us I actually snicker, they seem so false to me. I’m sure I’m an ingrate but I wonder how many of us think this way.

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