I don’t like the word “repentance.”

I used to immediately be on guard when the topic surfaced. The first time I admitted my aversion to other pastors’ wives I was surprised to discover I wasn’t the only one with a “word dissociative disorder.”  Just say repentance and some of us go into a catatonic trance or retreat to a safe mental space. Why the strong reaction? As women married to the pastor, there are times we’ve felt forced to make amends, or even confess invented wrongs for the sake of unity. Am I saying pastors are asking this of their wives? No!  But believe me, when the doo-doo hits the fan in a church blow up, its easier to take the hit than prolong the agony.

But here’s my point. Often pastors’ wives and kids aren’t given the time to recognize the depth of their own sin nor on the other hand, experience the love of a God who is wild about them.

  • Have you been strongly encouraged to reconcile with a church member before you were ready?
  • Have you felt forced to reestablish a relationship with someone who isn’t willing to walk the path of reconciliation?
  • Do you make your kids say they are sorry even if they do so through gritted teeth?
  • Do you tend to brush away relational hurts as just part of the ministry package?
  • Do you feel you are left to carry the relational damage ministry brings while others are let off the hook?

If this has been our experience, no wonder we have an aversion to the word and wrestle with its true meaning.

A lifestyle of repentance means we give up our need to be right and instead receive the righteousness of Christ. And Paul, in Galatians 3, says growth comes the same way we received Christ in the first place—through repentance and belief. As pastor’s wives we need to experience this lifestyle as much as any other believer.

I’m slow to see my sin. And one of the best gifts my pastor-husband has given me is to allow the Spirit to speak into my life in his timing, not in John’s timing. And before you send this link to your husband to read, realize it hasn’t always been this way in our marriage.  This hasn’t been easy on John. He’s faced losing jobs because of me. But he isn’t facing losing me!

Jesus began his public ministry with the word “repent” and repeated it over and over—a never-ending call to repentance. (Mark 1:15: repent and believe the good news; Matt. 4:17: repent for the kingdom is near; Acts 2:38: repent and be baptized.)

As we grow in repentance, we see more of God’s grace and experience his resurrection power in ways we never imagined. The more we are able to understand the evil of our own hearts, the more we are able to understand evil in larger contexts. A repentant faith—one in which we open ourselves up to Christ and simultaneously cast ourselves down before him—is quite different from an attempt to just keep peace by keeping people happy.

Luke 17 tells us that when someone sins against us, the person to watch out for is not the one who sinned against us, but ourselves! Why? We instantly want to retaliate. We want revenge. We are dangerous when we are sinned against because our natural instinct is to then retaliate and wound someone else. I’ve had a lot of practice with this. It’s not healthy.

Like Peter in Matthew 26 who promised Jesus he would never fall away yet minutes later did, our resolutions have no power for us either. They will not change us. Yet often, we pursue a lifestyle of resolve, not repentance. With resolve, we just force ourselves to deal with difficult situations, ignore them or let people off the hook. This isn’t healthy either and it doesn’t work! Our problem is that we believe too much in the power of our active righteousness. What we need is a hunger for Christ’s passive righteousness.

A what?

I’ll write more about that in my next blog, but for now I’ll just say, a hunger for Christ’s passive righteousness changes everything. Don’t get me wrong. Relationships will be way messier than before but totally different!

Stay tuned for the wild ride.

Shari Thomas