Not long ago, I had an opportunity to speak with someone who was deeply distressed. He had just gotten out of treatment for addiction and had immediately gone back to drinking. As he sat on my couch drunk, weeping, and in despair, I spoke with him gently.
"Do you know how many second chances you get?" I asked him.
"Just one," he said.
"Nope. Unlimited. As long as you have breath in your body, you have another second chance."
I told him of how many people I knew that had taken years, even decades to get sober. I spoke of the ones who had been to treatment dozens of times and finally got clean. I acknowledged with him that he blew it. Today. But tomorrow, there would be another new day -- another chance to start over. If he chose to dwell on today -- on the mistake -- he would never move forward. He would continue to beat himself up, and the negative messages he would tell himself would bury himself under a cycle of mistakes and abuse. On the other hand, if he owned the mistake, and then gave himself the message there would be another chance to choose differently tomorrow, he could wake up in the morning with a clear head and a fresh start. He would have the tools and the hope to choose well.
God never stops giving second chances. In fact, not only does God look not dwell on our past mistakes, God wipes them out completely. God can clean us white as snow -- we can have a fresh start so fresh, the stains of our mistakes do not even exist anymore. (This does not erase the things we learned from our mistakes -- all of our choices, good and bad, shape who we are today.)
Whatever is in your past that haunts you, own it. Claim it. Accept it as reality. Then give it to God. And let it go. You are made clean. White as snow. A second chance is already yours.
Narrative Lectionary Text: Psalm 51
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgement.
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.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
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.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt-offering, you would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
then you will delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt-offerings and whole burnt-offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.