That’s what I remember most about church growing up: sitting on the wooden pew next to my mom, stroking the smooth pink that adorned the ends of her hands, and dreaming of the day I would have nails like hers.
Sometimes my thoughts drifted towards God. But mostly, the service seemed to be for adults, and my mind stayed consumed with my own daydreams.
It was the music that would snap me out of my distraction.
First the pipe organ filled the sanctuary with deep and layered sounds, and then congregation swelled in with their harmonies. I sat up straight, looked in the hymnal, and did my best to sing along in broken childish melody.
We sang hymns in rotation, according to the church calendar. But there were a few songs we sung every week, as part of the liturgy.
One in particular comes to mind,
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy Presence And take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation And uphold me with Thy free spirit.”
At the time, I didn’t realize these were the words of Psalm 51:10-12. I knew them only as the lyrics to the refrain we sang in the middle of the service every Sunday.
When I read Psalm 51 now, I can’t help but hum the tune when I get to verse 10. And I have a difficult time reading a translation that does not use the same words that I know. These words are imbedded deep, woven through the fabric of memories and faith.
This song has been stuck in my head for over a week.
And though it has been annoying, it has also been powerful. I have thought of these words upon getting out of bed, playing with my kids, and cleaning up the kitchen. I have remembered them while driving my car, going to work, and talking with a friend. And as I have repeated these words over and over and over again, I have realized anew the profound truth they reveal about repentance.
Repentance is not just about asking for forgiveness.
Repentance is about being recreated.
We tend to think of repentance like a check out lane at the grocery store. We unload our cart of wrongdoings for God to inspect, we sheepishly pay what is owed by looking at Jesus and saying we’re sorry, and then go on our happy way.
But in that visual of forgiveness, what is to keep us from bringing the same things through the line over and over again? What difference is it really making?
When we repent, we acknowledge sin on a deeper level. We bow before God, spilling our wrongs before Him as we place face and arms to the ground. He holds our empty hands and places them to our chests, working with us to pry our hearts free. In repentance, we allow God to hold our hearts, and mold them beat in the rhythm of His ways.
I tried to do practice repentance this morning. To both ask forgiveness and ask for change. The words stuck in my throat as I attempted to utter them aloud.
Lord, I confess my selfishness. Create in me a heart that trusts you. Lord, I confess my envy. Create in me a heart that celebrates others. Lord, I confess my pride. Create in me a heart that is humble.
As the words stumbled from my lips, I realized that these kind of prayers should be my regular practice.
Repentance prayers demonstrate a deep level of faith. Faith in a God that loves us in spite of our wrongs. Faith in a God that has the power to recreate our hearts.
I pray that God will create in me a new heart of faith.
(That was my reflection on Psalm 51. Up next week? Psalm 52.)