Repentance: in Greek the word is meta-noia.
Meta - the prefix we know from metamorphosis that means “to change.”
And noia: the same root found in our English word, paranoia—when you are “out of your mind.”
So metanoia: literally, “to change your mind.” It's about re-thinking something, about seeing it in a new light. It's about recognizing where we got it wrong.
Repentance is not primarily a feeling or emotion. It’s not about feeling sad or remorseful, although perhaps those feelings will sometimes lead us to repentance. It is definitely not about guilt or shame, which very often halt forward progress toward amendment of life. True repentance is about how we grow, how we learn, how we evolve. It's about how we embrace the new life that is ours in Christ.
Most people I know (including myself) don’t like to have to consider changing our minds about much of anything. Most arguments are more about stating our case than holy listening. We hold onto the “way we were raised” or the “way I was taught”—as if that settles the matter. But remember this: people were taught for centuries that the world was flat. People were taught for centuries that blacks were inferior to whites and that women must never be ordained. They were wrong.
So this story from the desert tradition: once upon a time a visitor came to the monastery looking for the purpose and meaning of life. The Teacher said to the visitor, “If what you seek is Truth there is one thing you must have above all else.” “I know,” the visitor said. “To find Truth I must have an overwhelming passion for it.” “No,” the Teacher said. “In order to find Truth, you must have an unremitting readiness to admit that you may be wrong.”
Often when we encounter “the other” who challenges our worldview it is easier to just shout louder, until our world is made smaller and smaller and reduced to the people who tell us what we already know to be true. The problem with that way of being in the world, however, is that we stop learning and growing. And when that happens, repentance ceases to even be possible.
Faith is not a security blanket to keep us snug and warm. At the heart of Lent is this radical notion that true repentance is not about stability, but change. Ultimately it requires amendment of life and bearing fruit worthy of repentance: changed minds and hearts lead to changed patterns and better choices, and ultimately transformed lives.