There’s a haunting scene in the movie, The Pianist, where a woman sitting in a crowd of Jews about to be deported begins to wail. Quietly at first, then louder, she says, “Why did I do it, why did I do it, why did I do it?” Over and over she mutters this phrase until, finally, an irritated bystander asks what it was she did that was worth carrying on like that. He is told that when Nazi soldiers entered the woman’s house and were close to discovering her family hidden in the walls of their home, her baby started to fuss and, in her panic to keep from being found, she accidentally smothered him.
The question “Why did I do it?” is a good one for this time of year. Even though it’s just a day like any other, when the calendar flips to the new year most of us think about change–what we resolve to do differently, how to improve ourselves, how to get in shape once and for all. It is perennially a time for looking ahead, but perhaps a quick look in the rear view mirror is the best way to start.
When my children were small and would do something wrong, rather than just saying no, don’t do this, don’t do that, I instituted ‘the do-over.’ The do-over meant they would re-do something until it was done right. It might be a half-hearted apology, a sloppy silverware-emptying job, or responding to a sibling’s comment in anger. When they did this, we’d stop them in their tracks and ask them what they should have done, and then have them do it over the right way. This gave them an idea of what to do instead of just what not to do.
Clever as the concept is (she said humbly), I can’t take credit for it: God is the originator of the do-over. And, fortunately, His version is far better than mine. It doesn’t require doing a thing over until it’s perfect; it’s about becoming a do-ever. The Bible is rife with stories about people who, by God’s mercy, became do-overs: A crooked tax collector who became Jesus’ table mate. A murderer who became known as a man after God’s own heart. A big fat scaredy cat who led millions of people out of slavery. A torture expert who became a lover of Christ. An adulterous woman who received forgiveness instead of a stone to her forehead.
The do-over begins with just that…forgiveness. Jesus teaches us to forgive seventy times seven which is a clever way of saying continually. Even if those around you haven’t or won’t forgive you, have YOU embraced God’s forgiveness for whatever it is you wished you’d never done?? Because God is the God of second chances, fresh starts, clean slates, and new creatures. If He forgives, who cares who else doesn’t? God knows nothing of decades-long grudges, forgiveness based on mood, or retracted love. God’s do-overs don’t require perfect behavior, wagons that never get fallen off of, or pristine jail records. They are a gift, given freely and lovingly, from the one who knows the number of hairs on our heads, the one who left the 99 sheep to come find the one lost lamb, the one who counts our tears and keeps them in a bottle.
As we turn into 2012, remember this: That thing you’ve done this year that you wish you hadn’t is as far away from you as the east is from the west. Since we live on a spherical planet, that’s a loooooong way. God says He remembers that shameful or embarrassing or life-shattering act no more. NO MORE. Yes, the world might, and the knowledge of that can be enough to make you give up, but what good will that do? Martin Luther said that if we’re going to sin, sin boldly. I bet he’d agree on the next logical step: Accept God’s forgiveness boldly. We are told in scripture to boldly approach the throne of grace. I don’t think that directive was intended only for those whose worse sin is ditching church once a quarter.
So, if you find yourself lamenting, “Why did I do it, why did I do it?,” alongside your resolution to get up fifteen minutes earlier and finally shake that last ten pounds, resolve to get up, wash your face, and remember that no matter what friendships you’ve lost, whose good opinion you no longer have, what reputation is in shreds, in Christ, you are a raging success, a perfect, grace-filled, forgiven, gorgeous do-over.
If that doesn’t make for a happy new year, what does?