Repentance an Inch at a Time

Repentance an Inch at a Time

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If loving people were easy, everyone would do it. But it’s not and they don’t. It’s not easy to love a parent who plays favorites. It’s not easy to love a sibling who is obviously more favored than you by a parent. It’s not easy to forget some cruel thing that what was done to you or said about you. And it’s not easy to live it all down when you’re the one who did it or said it.

So much fractured family history. People drag it with them all through life, it seems. And it’s not just families like Jacob’s from the Bible. It’s your family and mine and everyone else’s in some measure.

We don’t have to be told we’ve got unprocessed pain and history. We know it in our core. We feel it in our bones. We don’t get to pick our own gene pool. We get the family we are born into. And on a lot of painful days, it’s not what we would have chosen.

The hard-but-honest truth is that all of us are flawed and fallen, and it’s no more evident in our lives than within family. And because we are flawed and fallen, despite our best desires and our genuine need, seldom does family life, the people in it, and the relationship we have with them, ever fully provide us with what we most deeply need.

As it was with Joseph in the Bible, so it is with us. Hungers such as love and acceptance, forgiveness and honesty, support and grace, often go missing when they are most needed. We are commonly left to hunger for things and expect things from family that they just never provide.

Perhaps the hardest part of all this is that the hope for a better past will always be met by the disillusionment of reality, what really happened in those years. Could it be that it really was as vacant as you remember it? It’s so disquieting to realize that the longing for all we missed growing up is really only an empty nostalgia for what was never really there.

Where do you begin to repair all that negative history? Where do you begin to renew family life and family love? And we think, God only knows! Well, He does. And He knows it all begins with repentance.

Over the years I have come to see repentance as less of an instant response and more of a continual process that results in lasting change. Repentance is this whole of idea of turning around and going the other way. It is acknowledging in godly sorrow that I was going the wrong way and then demonstrating the honesty of that acknowledgment by going the right way.

Well, in our study of the life of Joseph, his ne’er-do-well brothers had come around to the first part of the equation to some degree, but they had a long way to go on the second part. There was more repentance work that needed to be done. If it had gotten left half finished, all it would have done was perpetuate the destructive self-loathing that comes with any kind of unresolved guilt. And you cannot generate healing love from that kind of crippled inner core.

What God was doing through Joseph was exposing the guilt of the brothers because He knows full repentance is life-giving and not life-shaming; it’s transforming and not humiliating. And He knows it’s the only way a broken family is ever going to be in some sense reconciled.

Joseph’s game is not “getting even.” He’s not intent upon slowly torturing his brothers in an effort to get revenge. Instead, he is digging for the gold of a slow but sure repentance.

This is an excerpt from Joseph: A Story About a Family written by Stephen V. Elliott. Essentially, all of life revolves around two sets of relationships: ours with God and ours with one another. In the pages of Joseph: A Story About A Family, Elliott unpacks one of the most commonly shared Old Testament stories, helping readers discover that God is findable in the midst of the relationships that shape and misshape everyday life. When all is said and done, Joseph’s story is a story about a family. Maybe even your family. When you buy a copy in November, we’ll send you one for free to share with a friend!


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