I myself, and some people I have been around in various stages of crisis recently, have been reflecting in the midst of agony on second chances. Its painful to take them because it is a direct confirmation of failure or mistake, but oh thank God they exist. In my daily reading today I came across this, which seemed like providence as I have been trying to make sense of the regret, shame and confusion I heard someone express recently after what they felt was a series of bad choices:
“If the church I was raised in had a fault…it was that it did not allow for mistakes. It demanded that you get it right the first time. There was supposed to be no need for second chances. If you made a mistake, you lived with it and like the rich young man, you were doomed to be sad for the rest of your life. A serious mistake was like a permanent stigmatization, a mark you wore like Cain.
I have seen that mark on all kinds of people: divorcees, ex-priests, ex-religious, people who have had abortions, married people who have had affairs, people who have made serious mistakes with their children, countless others who have made serious mistakes. There is too little around to help them.
We need a theology of brokenness. We need a theology that teaches us that even when we cannot unscramble an egg, God’s grace lets us live happily and with renewed innocence far beyond any egg we may have scrambled.
We need a theology that teaches us that God does not just give us one chance, but that every time we close a door, He opens another one for us.”
I loved this, I think it speaks hopefully of grace and being able to fully live again beyond the limiting consequences of our inevitable mistakes and sins. Repentance is a gift from God, we cannot generate it ourselves, as is forgiveness, and both are processes I think. If we enter into them willingly, opening up our true self to God, then we commit to journeying through pain and vulnerability to a place where we can be healed and restored and receive grace. Learning to be kind to our failed self, our weak self, our despairing self, our angry self, our vengeful self – and to offer and open those selves honestly to God for healing and for acceptance, is a part of our process of journeying towards offering forgiveness and receiving it.
We can’t circumvent our humanity by simply leaping over processes that need to be engaged and wrestled with. In particular I don’t believe in any church sponsored spiritualities that offer immediate relief if you to speak ‘magic words’ or have the pain “cut-off” from you. I once received prayer ministry where I was made to say some exact wording from a page or I was told I would not be healed. As if God only recognises the words of this particular healing model. And as if healing was a “model” that belonged to humans, to box up and turn into a product! Grrrr. Grace is God’s. It emits from his divine nature and is shared as a freely given gift to all who fall short and are in need of it.
And it is a gift that can be recycled and handed on when others hurt us and fall short. No scorecards are marked and the offer extends timelessly beyond the thirty day free trial. As Easter is nearing, into our view creeps the suffering and injustice endured by Christ at the hands of people just like us. Grace always costs somebody; we are bound by our common sinfulness and weakness, and our shared receipt of undeserved grace made possible by Christ’s willingness to bear it all on the cross.