"Now we are aware that God is working all together for the good of those who are loving God, who are called according to the purpose" Romans 8:28
The Secret to Godly Sorrow
It was February 2002, I was a young disciple in the International Churches of Christ. At this time I lived in Calgary in the SW quarter of the city. I had been dating a girl in the Church for 8 months now. I had pursued her for nearly 3 years before the Church leadership had granted me permission to finally court her. Even then, the conditions were extremely onerous and restrictive. I was only allowed to call her once a week. I could see her briefly on Wednesdays and Sundays to discuss and plan our date night during the week which was typically a Saturday night.
Even more, she was a single mom, and the Church leadership was more restrictive than usual about how I pursued my relationship with her. I had to give daily reports to my "dating discipler" (who I'll refer to in here as Tim) as well as keep my "spiritual life" on track and constantly make D-times with my one one discipler (who I'll refer to in here as John). I was expected to have daily quiet times, I was expected to make all my Bible talk meetings. I was also expected to invite people to Church and have Bible studies with them regularly.
The list goes on, there was so many plates I had to juggle, and God forbid one of them came crashing on my head. This particular February night, I was on my way home from Wednesday night midweek services. I had been told that John would no longer be my discipler. Instead - Tim, who had been regularly making my dating life hell, would also be my one on one discipler as well now.
In the past few months, we had been accused of so many ridiculous things. Things that in the real world would not even be cause for concern (Blowing kisses for example), had become serious offenses worth sitting down with the church evangelist. In fact, we were told we had become too "inward focused", and were to refrain from kissing at all. (Which is laughable now that I think about it - we were only permitted one good night kiss at all per date - and it was to be a quick peck on the lips. Nothing further.)
I had had it by then. The stress of keeping all these rules and commandments had finally piled up so high I could not handle them anymore. I had taken to going drinking at the local bar just across the street from my house, almost nightly now. Even after my Saturday night dates with my girlfriend, I would pretend to head home, but I would duck into the bar and have a few until I could stumble home to bed.
I had picked up a foul habit of smoking cigars quite frequently too. A habit that now makes me nauseous if I inhale anything stronger than potpourri or incense.
My buddies from Church accompanied me that Wednesday night. I remember distinctly saying to myself "I just don't care..." and then began drinking and hanging out in the bar. Somewhere towards the tail end of the night, they started shooting pool with a group of girls. I remember checking one of them out, she was cute. Blonde, wore pink. I was buzzed so I smiled and played along with them.
After getting tired of shooting pool, around 1 in the morning, I sat at the bar and the cute girl came and sat down near me. We shot the breeze, chatting away. I was leaning into her and getting quite cozy with her.
By then my friends had left and I was at the bar alone. I leaned over and kissed the girl. I don't remember much else from that night, I kissed her three times, got her phone number, and left. I felt pretty proud of myself as I walked home.
The next morning, the full weight of guilt slammed into me. What have I done? I've cheated on her! I was filled with remorse. I loved my girlfriend.
Being the convicted disciple I was, and convinced God meant our relationship to last - I called my discipler. He was out of town that day, so I called a mutual friend of ours and confessed everything. (I'll call him Paul) Paul gave me some not so comforting words and then called the Church Evangelist, and I was set up for a meeting that night.
The sorrow I felt was crushing. I would have done anything to go back in time and erase this event. Anything. The humiliation I faced that month, meeting after meeting, with men all over the Church. By the end of the month, I'm fairly certain nearly every single, and married brother in the Church knew all of my misdeeds.
I had been told to get spiritual, to show Godly sorrow and repent. To which I did my best to make sense of this. Godly sorrow? What is this? It must mean deep deep sorrow, great tears and wailing must ensue. I must show my sincerity by repenting so thoroughly that there can be no question as to the depth of my sorrow.
Unbeknown to me, I was practising a great deal of Worldly Sorrow but nothing of Godly sorrow. To this day, I'm convinced that neither the evangelist or anyone in that Church had a clue what Godly Sorrow was. Not a single one could instruct me on this. I now understand why...
After a month had passed, I was once more sit down with a group of men which my evangelist lead. They challenged me to share these misdeeds of mine with my girlfriend. I was once again filled with deep remorse and great fear. I did not want to be the source of any kind of pain for my girlfriend. Again - I longed to wind back the clock and change things.
After that, we broke up. For nearly a year I sought to make reparation and restore our relationship. I felt this too was godly sorrow and worked with all my heart to change what could not be changed.
For years after that, I would sometimes lay in bed and replay the events surrounding that. Imagining if I could go to this particular time and change this one thing, or that particular time and change another thing.... The past had become my obsession. I would drink myself into a stupor some nights to dull the pain.
When I ended up dating the woman who became my wife, I did clean up some of my act. I didn't drink so much anymore. Instead I played video games and stayed home. We eventually left that Church. It took 2 years after leaving for me to admit that it was a cult.
For years anger and regret consumed me. I would smoke because I was filled with regret for having joined that church. For having cheated on my girlfriend. For not having enjoyed my single years more. The regrets and worldly sorrow piled sky high until I could not see over the tower of shame I had built.
I was so filled with bitterness, anger, and hatred. It consumed me.
I will not belabor my journey through all of this - for this would take an entire book. I will say that those years of sorrow - were filled with nothing but worldly sorrow. This is what Paul has to say in 2 Corinthians 7:10-12
"10 For sorrow according to God is producing repentance for unregretted salvation, yet the sorrow of the world is producing death.11 For lo! this same thing – for you to be made sorry according to God – how much it produces in you of diligence, nay, defense, nay, resentment, nay, fear, nay, longing, nay, zeal, nay, avenging! In everything you commend yourselves to be pure in this matter.
12 Consequently, even if I write to you, it is not on account of the one who injures, but neither on account of the one being injured, but on account of manifesting to you your diligence for our sake in God's sight."
It is obvious to me now that the years I had spent sorrowing over my past choices were all worldly sorrow. I was living nothing more than a walking death. I know for certain that some, if not many of my actions in those years hurt my wife and those around me. I certainly was no joy to myself either.
Yet something miraculous recently happened to me in the spring of 2013. God had awoken my heart to His grace. Indeed, the faith of his son filled my heart and washed over me completely. With a new found understanding of the expansive Grace of Father - He slowly took my worldly sorrow and cashed it in for Godly Sorrow.
The amazing difference between worldly sorrow and Godly Sorrow is that it leaves no room for despair, it has no regret but only joy. How is this possible?
Simple. For the believer who truly understands that God is in all things. When we come to realize that even our mistakes are made because God is in control and these things happened at his command - we can realize that nothing we had done was a mistake at all. There is no room for regret when we come to embrace that God is controlling everything and bringing everything to it's marvellous conclusion! How can I regret the path that God took me down that led me to here? How can I hate the people who inflicted pain on me in that cult, when it gave me the appreciation for how deep and how wide is the marvelous love of God?
Some will now say as Paul wrote in Romans 3:8 "Let us do evil then, so that God's will can be done!" Such thinking is immature and unworthy of a believer. When God demonstrates his marvellous majesty in how he handles our affairs, be it good or evil. It only motivates me to live in gratitude.
Religion believes godly sorrow is achieved by shame. God's ways are completely different. Religion believe repentance can only be enforced by fear and anguish, how much better is it that God motivates us by grace and love! How much more powerful that freedom is that God gives us, than the bondage that religion and the world would shackle us with.
When Godly sorrow fills you, there is no longer shame in your past, in fact - your shame has now become God's victory! "This is what I did, and God has done this with it! In fact, God was there all along!! How majestic is his name!"
But someone will say to me "But Travis what about what Paul says in verse 11 "For lo! this same thing – for you to be made sorry according to God – how much it produces in you of diligence, nay, defense, nay, resentment, nay, fear, nay, longing, nay, zeal, nay, avenging! In everything you commend yourselves to be pure in this matter."
To which I answer, it did!! I produced me in all manner of hatred and disdain for the worldly sorrow it produced when I committed that sin. Not only that, but the worldly living I had lived when I committed that sin. Now I gladly repent of it, with all zeal! If you are reading this blog and the other articles I've written, you know how zealous I am for Father's glory and the gospel of his message. I would not, if God allows me any effect, allow another person to ignorantly walk in legalism like I once did.
Paul, our apostle, demonstrated Godly sorrow perfectly. When Christ met him on the road to Damascus, look at what Godly Sorrow was produced in Paul!! Formerly Christ's chief persecutor, he became the Apostle to the nations!! He, by the grace of God, broke forth the message of the depth and riches of God's grace. He closed out the New Testament. And he gladly opposed his former life of legalism.
In everything, Paul commended himself to be pure in this matter! This is the secret of Godly sorrow - true Godly sorrow produces overwhelming joy, whereas worldly sorrow produces overwhelming despair.
With all love and grace,