Preparing for yesterday's Ash Wednesday service made me think again about what most people hear when Christians use words like repentance or penitence. I suspect they hear guilt. The problem with guilt is that it doesn't effect any positive change. Guilt-induced 'good' behaviour is temporary, subject to whether we think we'll be caught or not. Repentance is surely about change we genuinely desire.
The analogy I used yesterday was that I was put under some pressure as a child to do piano lessons. I did show an initial interest, but the lessons became quite an onerous burden. I got through the exams, but never became a pianist. I wasn't transformed by a set of behaviours which ultimately went back to not wanting to let my parents down.
However, I picked up a guitar and chose to learn myself. I'm not a great guitarist, but it's an ability I retained and enjoy. It still required work, practise and some sore finger ends, but the result was genuine and embedded change.
If Lent ever does anyone any good, then surely it's about a sequence of willing decisions to do things differently that embeds real change; it's not about a temporary burst of good behaviour or extra religious rituals that laspes once the pressure's off.