In distance running contests, the Hare and Hounds is the toughest race of all. Unlike track running, where you are on a well-defined, level running surface, the hounds are out in the country. Unlike a marathon, running on paved city streets, the hounds cross ditches, creeks, and mowed, uneven fields.
When I was 17, I ran in just such a race at the Kansas State Invitational. Jim Ryun was running in my heat, and when the gun was fired, he took off like a rocket. It was Jim out in front and the rest of us hotly contesting for slots two through twenty-five far behind. I would meet Jim again years later, and say to him, “It is such a pleasure to finally see the front of you. Until now I’ve only seen your back.” Then I had to explain, and what a laugh we had.
That day in Kansas an evil ditch was set just before the finish line. Thirty percent of the guys fell when they hit it, me included. The runners fell because they were tired and focused on the goal. The thought of turning in a different direction did not occur to them.
Wouldn’t it be odd if one of the runners left the stake-marked course and just headed out cross country? Everyone would say, “Where is he going?” It would be noticeable. The older we get, the harder it is to break out of our worldly routines and take a new direction. When society prescribes a certain reaction, the person that chooses a different way is considered “odd.” The wife that stays lovingly with a difficult husband, the non-drinker at the wedding, and the girl that maintains her virginity are examples. They are not doing what everyone else expects.
Repentance is like that. Metanoia is the Greek word for repentance and means a change of mind, a new way, or even a turning in the opposite direction. Each of us knows the lay of our race course and the traps the enemy has put there. From gluttony to infidelity, from drunkenness to ingratitude, from greed to hatred, we understand our own failings. The essence of repentance is first the individual knowing, then the turning in a new direction. Even when our friends and family say, “Where is he going?” We go anyway.