Writings by Cole Huffman


My apologies if I upset you. I’m only trying to be honest but I guess maybe you can’t handle that? Notice how I slipped into the interrogative tone there, conveying the self-awareness that I could possibly be wrong about you, thus owing you an apology if I am. But I’m probably not wrong about you, which is why I went ahead and said what I did. If you think you need an apology from me I’ll give it although I really can’t help that you misunderstand me.

There is everything in that excuse-apology jambalaya but the seasoning of personal repentance. The longer I go in life and ministry the more convinced I am repentance seasons a person well. The people I want to surround myself with now are those who no longer seek the fig leaf excuse, those who apologize without appendices, those who defy the hunger game of personal vindication.

If I could pick only one word to define relational integrity I think I’d choose repentance. “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” That is the first and in my estimation finest of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses because it gets right to the point: Jesus doesn’t offer excuses for me so I shouldn’t either, not just every now and then but as a way of life.

For repentance as a way of life I offer a word coin: repentancy. Like occupancy or generosity, repentancy sounds more ongoing than occasional, more state of being than status update. Repentancy begins at viewing oneself as never more than a justified sinner. Meaning what?

Recently I took my oldest child, almost seventeen, out for ice cream, just him and me. The conversation turned toward a couple of ways his mother and I witnessed him interacting with friends of his. One friend, female, had visited the house a couple times with other friends of his and we thought our son a rude host. I told him he should call the girl in particular and apologize. He offered an excuse for himself to which I answered, “Son, you’re going to be making apologies to women for the rest of your life. Make the adjustment to that reality now.” His wry smile told me I connected. He called her soon as we got home.

What I was trying to get at with him was what Luther said: Repentance as taking oneself in hand before God and others, the refusal to self-pamper. My son wondered what to say in apology. “Tell her you were rude and offer no excuse for it; tell her you were wrong in what you said and did in her presence and you’ve called to say so and apologize.” I stopped short of coaching him to ask her to forgive him as that would have seemed to him a kind of Hillary’s Step to the summit, and it was enough for now just to get him on the mountain. Baby steps, people.

We’re not talking about constantly bemoaning or berating one’s self. No one wants to hear that and it conveys a kind of self-loathing or false humility for which one should…well…repent. In fact, repentance as a way of life is remarkable for its relaxedness around others without being casual about my sin. My personal defensiveness decreases even as my sensitivity to giving offense increases.

I can be earthy in my preaching sometimes, both calculatingly and unintentionally. Some in my congregation will take to email to convey how I offended their sensibilities. I really hate email as a corrective medium. I’d rather we talk through a problem face-to-face. And I used to respond to such emails defensively, counterpointing the writer like Zophar in Job 20:3, “I hear a rebuke that dishonors me!” But a couple years ago God dealt with my pride in that, prompting me to listen to the truth being conveyed to me even if the medium galled me. I’ll read a critical email once through and reply with simple sentences: thankfulness for the sender, apologies for my offending them, invitation to dialogue if I genuinely feel misunderstood or misconstrued, and a request for their prayers. Tough practice for me but I’ve been the better for it.

Repentancy is the fruit of a cultivated conviction that what Jesus thinks of me matters most. If I truly believe that I don’t have to hide or hedge or otherwise flummox you with excuses for myself or apologies that don’t apologize. I can tell you I was wrong, empathize with how I caused you pain, ask your forgiveness, thank God for no condemnation in Christ, and ask God and you too how I should conduct myself differently.

Now repeat that over and over and over again. You’re in the state (the grace) of repentancy.

Posted by Cole Huffman at 4:10 PM
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