This weekend, the two oldest kids and I averted tragedy on our four-wheeler, and I learned something about repentance and Godly sorrow. Not bad for a weekend, I suppose.
So, it was Saturday afternoon and the entire family was bored. In a stroke of genius I decided it would be fun to take the two older kids (Bethany is three and Marty is two) on a four-wheeler ride. Behind our house is what seems to be an endless wilderness and its also fun to ride the four-wheelers, with the kids, up and down our driveway. So, we all got jackets on and headed out for the afternoon.
As you can see by the picture above, no comments about how fat I’m getting please ;), we have a green, rugged, four-wheeler that has a large passenger seat on the back.It’s just big enough for two small kids. Off we went.We drove around the back for a while, and then up and down the driveway a few times.After about twenty minutes the driveway and the grassy area you can see in the photo seemed less than adventurous to all three of us.Both kids kept laughing, and we were all having a good time.So, with their encouragement, I headed up a little higher on the hill behind our house, intending to show the kids a pretty fascinating view of Utah Valley. We got to the top of the hill with very little problem; since none of us were wearing any real protection at all I think I capped the top speed on the four-wheeler at about 10 mph for our journey.Speed, was not our problem.It was heading back down the hill, very slowly, when we ran into a problem. Having not been on a four-wheeler all winter, maybe my mind was just dull – or maybe I was just absent minded period, but I hadn’t dawned on me that going down hill might be a bit tricky.As we started down, almost immediately we were in a surprisingly difficult predicament.At least it was surprising to this dull-headed dad.
As you can see from the photo, when we set out, each kid had both legs off to either side of my body.This works great for flat surfaces and even going up hill.But, as you have probably guessed by now, I didn’t take long, going down hill, for me to become strikingly aware of a problem. Before I knew it both kids were sliding forward, right off the four-wheeler.We were headed down a pretty mild hill, but it was a hill nonetheless.I was using my left hand to ride the back brake a bit (in hindsight I should have been using the foot brake), and I turned to each side to take an inventory of the kids.Bethany had a panicked look on her face as she explained, “Daddy I’m getting off.”
Now, though it sounds like she was making a declaration, what she was really saying was, “Like it or not I’m falling, and there is nothing I can do about it.”She was on the declining side of the hill as well, so I was immediately concerned.At about this same instant, for some still unexplainable reason the brake cable snapped. I switched hands, using my right “front” brake to bring us to a complete stop.Taking my left hand off the handlebars, I reached to grab Bethany before she slid completely off the four-wheeler.Gripping the front brake with my right hand had consequences all its own. I turned to check on Marty and as a result of the rapid stop, he was headed, somehow, head first for the dirt.It was like he was in slow motion, sliding ever so slowly, but certainly, down.His face was towards me, and in a very calm way he said with a kind of matter of fact tone, “Daddy, help me.”
There was nothing I could do.His head was about six inches in front of the rear tire.My left hand had a hold of Bethany, and if I let go of the front brake with my right hand, the four-wheeler would roll forward with both of my hands off of the handlebars.So, I just watched my boy fall – helplessly, head first to the ground.My only thought at that point was related to keeping the four-wheeler from rolling forward and right over the top of him. In a panic, I stood Bethany up on the ground on my left, I used my left hand to grip the front brake, reached down and grabbed Marty and brought him up as quickly as I could.I think the whole ordeal lasted maybe two or three seconds all together.But, looking back in my memory, it feels like a full length motion picture. Bethany started to slip down the hill, not able to keep her balance, so I laid Marty across the gas tank in front of me, grabbed Bethany, and forcefully put her behind me in the rear seat.Of course, we were still pointing down the hill, which explained why her response was, “Dad, I don’t want to start over.”
After sitting there for a few seconds, making sure I was not in the middle of having a heart attack, I got Bethany situated behind me, facing forward with one leg to either side of me. I told her to hold on and I could feel her arms around my waist – that felt better. I had Marty straddle the gas tank, and I showed him how to use his hands on the tank to keep his balance. It had never before dawned on me that my kids just didn’t instinctively understand how to “hold on.” Nevertheless, now that we had it figured out, trying not to let the kids notice just how panicked I had been – I slowly let off the brake and we started back down the hill. Neither of the kids was saying anything. I realized that they were trying to figure out what had just happened. Worried that I might have scarred them for life, I forced myself to say something. “Wow, wasn’t that exciting?” I chuckled. Marty responded first by saying, “No, I hit my head.” Bethany, in a very sullen voice could be heard behind us adding her disapproval saying, “Dad, can we not do the scary part anymore?”
Once we were back in safe, flat territory, things lightened up a little bit.Marty actually asked if we could do it again because he didn’t want to go home.Bethany explained to Marty that we “half (sic) to go home,” because he had “bleed” on his head. When we got home, I took a minute and tried to clean Marty up.I was already thinking that I really didn’t want to explain to Michelle what had happened.But, there was no cleaning up the scrapes on his forehead.Fortunately, he wasn’t hurt. As we walked in the house I remembered the time when I was three years old and had returned with my dad from a similar motorcycle accident. Things didn’t go so well for him back then, when he had tried to explain to my mom what had happened, and I imaged things weren’t going to go so great for me as I explained our adventure to Michelle. Of course, she was right there to great us as we walked in.She couldn’t – according to the laws of the universe I’m sure – have been busy with the baby somewhere far away from the back door.
“Mommy, I fell off the furwheeler (sic),” was Marty’s first comment to his mom. Bethany once again explained that he had blood on his forehead. Michelle calmly asked me what had happened, but I stalled.I suggested that we just get the kids jackets off, Marty’s head cleaned up, and both of them seated at the kitchen table so we could all eat some lunch together.That didn’t work so well either – the kids told her everything.
Well, as you can see from the picture, Marty is fine.Both kids can’t wait to go for another ride on the four-wheeler, but I can’t stop thinking about it.I can’t stop thinking about a) how fortunate we were and b) how darn stupid I was.I have been feeling like the worst dad on the planet. I couldn’t sleep very well last night as I kept replaying those critical seconds in my mind.Over and over, I searched.It wasn’t the general ordeal that haunted me as much as it was my son.Watching Marty hit the ground, his head bending towards his shoulder as his neck gave way to the weight of his body, is the moment I keep playing over and over again.He had the look of a child counting on his dad to save him.I was feeling helpless, unable to figure out how to help in any way.That is what has haunted me.When we woke up this morning, I full expected him to be mad at me.He wasn’t.
So, today in church, I sat there listening to a lesson about repentance and Godly sorrow – and something struck me. When we talk about repentance, one of the first things that usually comes to mind is the feeling of guilt.Guilt is accompanied by other related feelings of regret and remorse.These emotions combined to form what we could refer to generally as simply the “feeling bad” emotions.I was certainly having my bout with these feelings on Sunday morning. But, to any student of the gospel its obvious that simply feeling bad is not enough to truly repent.Now, on a side note, it wasn’t that I was particularly preoccupied with the idea of repenting for what occurred on Saturday, its just that Saturday was on my mind. Nevertheless, in order to repent, something has to happen inside which results in a rebirth – a new commitment to want to live differently.It is this change that eliminates the desire to sin, and it’s this change that allows repentance and forgiveness to actually take place.Unfortunately, many of us get stuck on the “feeling bad” part of the process.This “thing” that happens to create the change of heart is often referred to as Godly sorrow.
What is Godly sorrow?Well, I suppose that is a lecture for a different time, but the insight I had today has been poignant.Contrary to what many teach, I don’t think God has much interest at all in any of us getting stuck, “feeling bad.” Of course, that might be an essential “piece” of the process but it cannot be an end in and of itself.The self-loathers, the mystics, and the tyrants in the religious world have leveraged the “feeling bad” part of the process to the point of codifying it into doctrine in many faiths (closely related to the false notion called “the depravity” of man).No, us feeling bad – even to the point of mourning in “sackcloth and ashes” doesn’t make the world a better place (no matter how much authority rests with the person claiming that this is our proper position with regards to God). Lacking the conscience and the spiritual sensitivity to “feel bad” for sin is another problem entirely.But, past the point of feeling bad there is a place inside our hearts that can be called Godly sorrow, where our bad feelings and our regret for our actions fade into the background.
Here’s the insight and the connection with my four-wheeler incident. No matter how many times I replay the four-wheeler incident in my mind, I can’t seem to come to grips with the “thing” that haunts me.I keep trying to find a way to “fix” the situation – to explain it in a way that doesn’t hurt so badly.As I replay the incident in my mind the temptation is to try and “fix” the problem.I want to blame the four-wheeler, the rear brake cable did snap and without that happening the whole incident would have probably been much less dramatic.This would mean, if I just fixed the brake cable, find out why it snapped, I will have fixed the situation.Right?
Problem is, brake cables or some other “thing” might go wrong at any time on a four-wheeler excursion. So, I’m tempted to argue, “If I would have just had the kids put on a helmet” then this wouldn’t have been as bad. Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that I was stupid on Saturday. I want to say, “Well next time I’ll just take one kid,” or next time this or next time that… but nothing soothes the pain caused by the deeper and much more important truth. The deeper truth is this. There will always be uncertainty – and there will always be unforeseen “accidents.” That is NOT the problem in this situation. The problem on Saturday has to do with the kind of dad I was being. I was not being the kind of dad that I want to be. On Saturday, I was thoughtless. I can’t change that, that is the kind of dad I was being then. That is the haunting truth, the ordeal with Marty hitting the ground was merely the consequence. I was not being attentive to the kids before the crises. I was not prepared. The consequence of the way I was being – the incident – is simply a reminder. It is an undeniable reminder that I was not living the life that the “dad” in my mind must live.
This is how it seems to be, when I think of sin.When we feel regret for our actions, that’s good for a short time.It’s an acknowledgment of the message that God is sending us about our actions – through natural consequences. Consequences are not punishments as much as they are reminders.Feeling guilt and remorse and regret is focusing on the consequence – as if the consequence of our action is the “bad thing.”Thinking this way makes us ever weaker victims as we confront so many of life’s uncertainties.If we only experience guilt or shame in the face of such circumstances our whole life can become consumed with our feelings of failure and inadequacy, and we can become hopeless. If instead, however, we focus on “how” we are “being” or how we were being in a given situation – and we compare that to our potential, to the God given potential that represents what we “could be” with God’s help – then we have a new feeling inside.Its not so much a feeling “bad” for our actions but it’s a longing for “being” a different person – a better person – the person God would have us be.Recognizing this difference, I think, has something very important to do with this idea of repentance, Godly sorrow and rebirth.
In a real way, I have repented for Saturday.Some laughed at me in church today when I shared this insight, thinking perhaps I was being a little melodramatic.But, what can be more important than repenting for being a lazy dad?What could be better for me, for my kids or for any dad than to repent of his absent mindedness and commit (not to his kids – that would be out of regret or remorse) but to God – and to himself – that he is going to live differently.Of course this commitment provides all the benefits to the kids that would be present if he were to make a commitment out of guilt or shame, but the difference is that HE doesn’t loathe himself in the process.This kind of recognition, of our desire to live a better life, when faced with an undeniable consequence of our previous actions – is at the core of becoming the “new man” spoken of in the scriptures.It, I believe, is at the core of finding hope in Christ and in his atonement. Well, for what its worth, I certainly think I’ll sleep better tonight – as a result of this insight.Maybe it might help you if you ever find yourself at some point in the future, stuck replaying in your mind, some scenario filled with regret when, no matter how many ways you look at it, there is a deeper truth that still haunts your soul.
I love my kids, and I love the fact that in the years ahead neither of them will likely remember anything from Saturday. As for today, I just hope that I can keep the commissars away (that’s supposed to be funny) while I work on overcoming my “Dumb Dad” of the year routine. I have much work ahead, but as a result of Saturday I think I’m a better dad already. When I took the picture of Marty with the scratch above his brow, I told him what I was doing and he responded – “I wanna go ride on the furwheeler.”