Repent (v.): To turn

Can you believe we’re in October already? With the season changing and the weather getting a little bit cooler, even in Virginia, it’s turning into sweater weather. As I brace myself for the winter ahead, sometimes a season that feels lonely and full of aimless days, I find myself looking inward to find the internal spaces that have seemed a little lonely these days. And if I’m being honest, I’m in a rut. Lately, I’ve found myself searching, looking for something I can’t seem to find. 

My days are full with classes, work, meetings, to-do lists. My weekends have become precious hours of self-care and relaxation. They mean sleeping in and spending a lot of time in front of the oven, waiting on a new recipe to come out. This also means that I often hear the bells of church from my bed, which provokes the search to continue. The search starts with the thinking. From under my covers, I start in, but lately, it spills over into my day-to-day comings and goings. No matter where I am (bells ringing from afar or not), I catch myself thinking about how I would not be the person I am today without it. It has shaped who I am, led to the intentionality I place in the relationships I engage in, has provided me with countless models of Christ in others. And it has, on countless occasions, renewed my faith in humanity. So that’s great, right? I think about it, I process it, give it the reflection time it has earned. But the nagging tug on my heart remains — what am I doing about it?

 Aren’t we called to act, to serve one another, to live our lives as reflections of Christ’s love for us? If that’s the case, then I’ve got some stepping up to do. These thoughts have got to take shape somehow.

That being said, when I was asked by one of my colleagues, and now good friends, from the office I worked in as a graduate assistant last year if I would like to join her and her family at their church service this weekend, I agreed. Ever since first meeting Mary last year she has been to me exactly what I just described above — she is a woman who truly lives her faith. She is Christ to others in her words, her actions, and her presence. Mary watched as I had moments in my first year of graduate school when I soared and moments when I sank. She was the one who gifted me a box of Kleenex and lotion for the winter months, and a devotional for when things got hard. She spent hours listening, and meaningful moments responding with loving and supportive words. She watched me grow exponentially in one year’s time, quietly supporting me and sharing her faith along the way so that I was constantly reminded that I was never alone and through it all I gained yet another amazing model of Christ in my life.

 With Mary’s invitation at the ready, I was anxious as I entered into a faith setting that was new and unfamiliar to me. Though much different from my normal Sunday routine and the traditional Catholic Mass I’m accustomed to, there were several times throughout the sermon that I found myself entirely engaged in the message. Rapt by the pastor’s physical representation of his words, I found myself especially captivated as he asked another pastor in the gathered congregation to join him and represent Jesus. Standing with his back to the new pastor, he began to walk away from him, all the while talking to us about what it is like to separate ourselves from Christ. 

As he walked further and further from “Jesus” he approached literal darkness and stopped walking only when he was in the shadows of the stage. Turning around he spoke about how when we feel this far apart from our faith, it feels we will never get it back, that there are too many obstacles, and that Christ is just too far. He then proceeded to walk back to “Jesus” and replayed the scene, this time with the pastor walking directly behind him, step for step. When he got back to the darkness, he stopped. Without turning around he told us that what we forget, when we feel far from Christ, is that all we have to do is repent, which literally means “to turn,” and there He is. He’s never as far as we think He is. He’s never far at all, actually. Instead, He’s been right behind us, even beside us, the whole time. Sometimes, as the “Footprints in the Sand” poem likes to remind us, He’s actually carrying us and we just never realize it. It’s when we feel that pull, that tug, that search coming on that we just need to turn and see Him to know that He’s always within reach. Sure, we might have some ground to make up, but we’re not doing it alone. As I reflect on what this means for me as my search continues, I encourage you to do the same. Just make the turn, and see that exactly Who you need is by your side.

Anchor columnist Renee Bernier graduated from Stonehill College and is a graduate student in the College Student Personnel Program at James Madison University in Harrison, Va.

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