When I went to get my drivers license many moons ago, part of the test was to identify road signs. All of the signs were familiar to me expect the “do not enter” sign. What tripped me up initially was they just showed the red circle with the white line in the middle; no words. Of course, adding the words would have made it obvious (probably why the actual sign includes them). I suppose the idea is sometimes you may have to make a decision about entering or not entering and fractions of a second could make the difference between avoiding danger or not. We don’t want to have to count on folks reading the sign. We want them to see the circle and line and know this is a no fly zone.
There are lots of signs like that. We need to be able to see them and interpret them almost instantly. Some may not have life and death consequences but they are still there to help us avoid difficulty and frustration. I think about the “Dead End” sign or its cousin “No Outlet.” You can drive all the way to the end and usually the only consequence is a bit of lost time as you have to backtrack and find another way to wherever you’re going.
During this Lent I’m considering my own journey. How many times have I missed or ignored God posting a “Do Not Enter?” How often have I convinced myself surely it doesn’t really mean “Dead End,” there must be a way through.
When we find ourselves in places we shouldn’t be or doing things we shouldn’t be doing, we have a choice: keep going and hope it turns out alright, that there’ll be a way through – or – we turn around until we get back on track.
In the life of faith, to turn around is to repent. Repent. That’s not a word we use much outside of the church and it’s not one we like to think about much inside it.
For me the reason is simple; to repent requires me to recognize I’m going the wrong way, that I have lived my way right through the “do not enter” sign. I don’t like admitting I’m wrong. I don’t like admitting my choices have led me to places that are dead ends. I don’t like thinking I have chosen poorly and need to turn around. There’s probably some joke here about guys not stopping to ask for directions, but when it comes to following Jesus, going the wrong way doesn’t feel like a joking matter. So I don’t joke and I don’t stop and I get farther and farther away from God.
The crazy thing is I know God is a merciful God. I know God is the Father waiting for the prodigals to return. I know God has already forgiven everything I have ever done, every sin I have committed along the path away from love. Even knowing this, I find it difficult to stop and turn back.
Fortunately, I think God knows this about me. So God puts up the road signs and when I blow through them, God lays down some of those rumble strips and puts up guardrails. God doesn’t force me to turn back, but God gives me every opportunity to do so. Which makes me think the only road sign God doesn’t use must by the “No U-Turn.” In fact, U-Turns are so encouraged it may be that every other sign is meant to help us see the U-Turn more clearly.
Repent. Turn Back. Turn around. I’m hearing Jesus’ words differently this season. (Matthew 4:17) Repent isn’t an indictment, it is an encouragement.
“The Kingdom of Heaven has come near” means it is even more possible to live differently; it is possible to choose another path. Repent because your best life is right here. Repent and live.
Life is better together,