It is time. Time for the school books to be shelved. Time for feeling fresh green blades of grass underfoot. Time for growing the teacher. I look forward to summer every year not for a learning-pause but for a student-exchange.
For the entire school year, my children have fed from the banquet table that their tutors and I have labored to lay before them. Now, it is the teacher’s turn to feast. I am sitting before the lavish table, but where to start—with the latest classical education book, a dazzling conference, the newest Bible study? No. It seems that my Heavenly Father has me start with the same menu every year. A menu with tears, humility, and release.
Why does my summer continuing education plan begin with such serious, somber things when I am already so weary? My weariness positions me precisely where God and I can work best, dependent on Him. God seems to want to develop over summer break what can at times be too easily ignored over the school year—my heart and soul. Just as our students are souls to be nurtured and not products to be measured, I am too. I need nourishment after even the most blissful, exciting, and fulfilling school year, not to mention those years that are exhausting, disappointing, and draining. Spending time at God’s table prepares me for the blessings and challenges of the ever-impending next school year. So, what is on God’s menu? His feast for me is in three courses: confession, repentance, and acceptance. It has taken time to appreciate this menu, but now I come to the table so grateful for the meal.
The first course is confession. I think of confession as a contemplative appetizer, something that prepares my heart, soul, and mind for the rest of the meal. Confession means so many different things to different people. In this essay, it means to say something out loud to God that has been kept secret in one’s heart. How do we find these deep confessions? First, we can pray and ask God to reveal an emotion to focus on. This summer God has me thinking on and confessing the many fears in my life, but it could have also been things that I am sad, anxious, stubborn, grieving, or angry about.
Next, using the emotion God has pointed out, it is helpful to think about that emotion with respect to the following five categories: God, ourselves, our marriages, our parenting, and our work. My process looks like this: I list every thought I have that relates the emotion and the category, frequently finding five to seven relationships for each category. Then, I summarize all the specific relationships in each category into a single statement, creating a title for each group using a phrase or statement. I confess that this has been very difficult for me to do alone so I enlisted the help of a trustworthy, older friend to help me. Many, many tears fell but these feasts with God always end with dessert.
The second course serves up repentance. This is the main course of the meal. In a dictionary I found years ago, repentance was defined as turning 180° from something, walking away, and never looking back. I have found that impossible. Instead, what if repentance is defined as ‘a change of mind.’ Repentance is then anytime that our minds are realigned to match God’s reality; our behavior will follow. A prayer of repentance might sound like this, “I recognize I have inaccurate thinking when judged against Your Word and reality. I don’t want to live this way anymore. Have mercy on me, a sinner.”
How does one arrive at this kind of prayer? Matthew 5 gives a recipe for repentance. Christ begins with poverty in spirit. The poor in spirit recognize they have wrong thinking about God, themselves, and reality. This wrong thinking has been gathered over the years of living on earth as one wrong line of thought has reinforced other wrong thoughts. As I repent, I ask God to give me the desire to be poor in spirit and show me one piece of wrong thinking about the emotion He has drawn to my attention.
Next Christ adds mourning. Not an “I’m sorry for my errant thinking” type of mourning. A guttural mourning, from the bowels, that leads to receiving the comfort that only Christ, the Balm of Gilead, can administer. I ask God who I need to forgive. Faithfully, He takes me by the hand and leads me through making that forgiveness a reality. Then our Heavenly Father portions out meekness, an awareness that in Christ’s economy the demand to protect myself at the expense of others leads to bankruptcy. After walking through each of these parts of repentance, we can anticipate the blessing of growth in humility.
The final course is acceptance. This is the dessert course! What does acceptance mean? Sweet release! Acceptance is embracing what our Heavenly Father says about us thereby refusing to believe the enemy. The truth shines through the darkness and casts it away. An acceptance prayer may sound like this, “Your word says ….. I chose to believe Your word.” This step in the process can take some detective work. I find a phrase, verse, or passage from Scripture that states God’s truth about each of my pieces of wrong thinking. Most of the time, passages intimidate me, and all I need is something like, ‘Cease striving and know that He is God.’ However, there have also been times when an entire Psalm has been needed to battle the unbelief in my heart and mind. Once I have found my Scripture truths, I pray them back to God.
To be honest, I don’t always believe what I am praying out loud in the beginning of the process. I pray for days and weeks persistently. I have found my prayer time does not always need to be long; if needed, I set a timer for something like four and a half minutes. In that short amount of time, in obedience, I am taking my thoughts captive, casting all my cares on Him, and with prayers and supplication making my requests known to God. I have found the more regularly I pray, the faster the healing of my soul and my relationships with others sprints toward freedom. I can finish my meal and walk away from the table fully satisfied—release is on the way.
The school books are shelved; it is your turn to feast if you are willing. Are you ready to accept the seat your Heavenly Father has reserved for you? Are you ready to dine from the courses of confession, repentance, and acceptance? Table for one? Your host is gracious. Your table is waiting.