Tiger's Apology, Lent, & Repentance

I don’t feature guest columnists often, but my friend, Magrey deVega (pastor of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Cherokee, Iowa) wrote a thought-provoking piece on Tiger Wood’s apology that seamlessly fits into the Lenten season. I hope you enjoy as much as I did. Thanks, Magrey.

Dear Lenten Pilgrims,

When celebrities sin, it’s voyeuristic entertainment.  We hang on every word of every detail, and dissect their apologies like a science lab experiment. That’s why Tiger Woods’ confession last Friday seemed to garner so much attention, with millions viewing it live on television and on the web.

It is impossible to gauge his true motivations behind his apology.  He could have been trying to repair his public image, or express genuine remorse, or both.  But what we do know is what he said:

I knew my actions were wrong. But I convinced myself that normal rules didn’t apply. I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself. I ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to….I was wrong. I was foolish.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I have done. My failures have made me look at myself in a way I never wanted to before. It is now up to me to make amends. And that starts by never repeating the mistakes I have made. It is up to me to start living a life of integrity.

After hearing (and re-reading) these words, I find it hard to let them go as mere celebrity spectacle.  For doing so distances us, not just from Tiger, but from the task of confession itself.  As long as we convince ourselves that repentance of such sins is a task only for high-profile, high-risk cultural icons, then we fail to see the possibilities of a teachable moment for ourselves.

What if, instead of hearing these words while watching a television, we were speaking these words while looking at a mirror?

Tiger likely did not time his public confession to coincide with the start of Lent, but for us Golgotha-bound pilgrims, this was a timely moment. There is something about the words of his apology that ought to reverberate within the dark, recessive confines of our souls.  Lent is a time of deep introspection, along with acknowledging the resident, residual sins that go unacknowledged for too long.  It is a time of exposing these sins to the light of God’s grace, confessing them to loved ones that we have hurt, others that we have wronged, and vowing to make amends with transformed behavior.

No, this is not easy.  While we might never have to stand under the scrutinizing gaze of hot lights and television cameras, we have to strip down layers and layers of self-protection and self-deception, allowing a vulnerability that we would readily avoid.

No true confession is ever easy, even though half-hearted confessions always are. It is much too easy to take less than full responsibility for our mistakes. We’d rather practice conditional apologies, like “I apologize to anyone if my actions were harmful.” A wise person once said, “An apology is not an apology if it contains the word if.”

While Tiger’s words are an effective model in assuming total responsibility, it’s not the best one.  I think of King David who, upon acknowledging his own case of infidelity, cried out the words of Psalm 51:

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me….
Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me….
You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart….
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me….
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

The day after Tiger’s television appearance, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, well-known pop-psychologist and author of Shalom in the Home, reminded readers of beliefnet.com of the three stages of repentance from the Hebrew Talmud:

The Talmud says there are three essential steps to repentance.

  • The first is to admit you have a problem.
  • The second is to confess it verbally and take full responsibility.
  • And the third is to undertake corrective, righteous action that will undo or make better the error.

During these weeks of Lent, I pray that each of us will make time to take a serious inventory of our deepest, most secret sins, confess them verbally, and take full responsibility.  And then, by the grace and forgiveness of God, let us change our behavior, and determine to live a holier life.