by Bronwyn Lea
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space. Learn more here.
“Mom! Mom! Look at the moon!” my son yelled from his booster seat at the back of the car. Trying not to swerve off the road, I leaned forward and scanned the skies. All I could see were the muted tones of twilight with the brave evening star making its appearance. “There! There!” he insisted, with his brother chiming in to try and direct my gaze. I began twisting my neck side to side like an owl, trying to catch a glimpse. No luck. I decided to try from a different position. At the next traffic light, I scooted lower in my seat, trying to see the sky from my seven-year olds’ perspective. Oh! Oh! There it was! A luminous orb right before my eyes!
Looking around hadn’t been enough. I’d had to move to catch a glimpse. Sometimes you have to shift before you see. That little moon-watch gave me a new glimpse on something spiritual I was learning, too: a shift to see something new and beautiful about repentance.
I grew up in church circles where we talked about “repenting and believing” to become a Christian. Repentance, as I understood it, meant feeling very convicted of my sin and sorry for it; and belief meant turning to Jesus’ work on the cross to forgive my sin. I still believe this with all my heart: we are called to turn away from sin and selfishness, and trust Jesus to rescue us from slavery to sin and its death penalty (Romans 3:23-24, 1 Peter 3:18).
I first did this when I was six years old: the very best decision of my life. But what, then, were my spiritual leaders talking about when they talked about the continued need for believers to “repent and believe the gospel,” as Mark 1:14-15 says? Hadn’t I already done that?
As it turns out, repentance means more than feeling guilty. The Greek word for repentance is metanoia, coming from meta (to change) and noein (a mental perspective). Literally, it means to “change one’s mind.” Another way to to explain it would be to “change your allegiance”: once, my primary loyalty was to doing what I want, but now Jesus calls me to obedience and loyalty to him first. He is the Lord.
If repentance means changing your mind, though, then it’s not just something we do once to kickstart a new phase of our spiritual life - like passing a driver’s license test to begin driving. Rather, repentance is something much more continual - it’s part of the process of “renewing our minds” as Romans 12:1 tells us to do. My brain is full of all sorts of half truths and untruths about God, myself, and the universe. Part of the Holy Spirit’s lifelong work in me is to invite me to constantly be changing my mind—or repenting—and trying to get a glimpse of God’s beautiful and true perspective of things.
Earlier on the day of the moon-glimpse, I’d been wrestling with a too-long to-do list and a too-heavy heart. I’d arrived late to a pastoral meeting and had slumped in a chair, prepared to do little more than attend and say I was there, but too distracted and discouraged to really engage. I wasn’t there to learn. I was there just to check the box to say I’d been there.
The leader of the meeting spent some time asking about what had our attention right now, and what God might be saying to us in all that? The question seemed daft: I couldn’t see any possible ways that God might be trying to get my attention in the middle of my crazy calendar. I imagined I first needed to clear my calendar and be in the middle of a “quiet time” before I could hear from God.
But just like needing to duck in my seat so I could glimpse the beauty of the moon, I needed to change my perspective. As our leader talked about how God might be inviting to change my mind about my circumstances and see something different—to repent and believe that He has good to say in the midst of the craziness—I shifted. And God showed me something different. He reminded me His name is Emmanuel: the God who is WITH me. And so rather than feeling alone and overwhelmed by my personal circumstances, he was inviting me to repent: to change my perspective. God wasn’t impatiently waiting for me to deal with my life-drama before I came back to him. No. He is WITH me in it. And I’m called to believe that.
That truth was right there all the time, but I couldn’t see it. I needed a voice reminding me to shift my perspective. To keep looking until I could see what God wanted to show me.
And oh! Oh! There it is!
Bronwyn Lea is the editor of Propel Sophia and the author of Beyond Awkward Side Hugs: Living as Christian Brothers and Sisters in a Sex-Crazed World. She lives with her moon-watching kids and husband in Northern California. Follow her on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, and sign up for her monthly-ish newsletter here.