Thursday, July 14, 2016

Second Chances

Playing grace off like a given is an affront to the mystery of grace. But so is playing grace down.

The truth is that most of us play grace off like it's no big deal. We play our second chances like they're our firsts, like we've never messed up before. We keep grace quiet lest anyone figure out how desperately we need it.

It's this quiet kind of game we play. Ask me how many second chances I've had in life, and I'll pretend to think about it for awhile. I'll rack my brain trying to come up with maybe even one or two times that I've gotten a do-over. Me? I get it right the first time. Ask my family or my friends, and they'll be able to rattle off a whole list of times I could have used a second chance, probably by rattling off a list of my failed firsts. Ask me again, in a quiet moment, and invite me to authenticity, and I will admit that I've lost count, that I'm almost at a place where every breath feels like a second chance, every heartbeat feels like grace. I will drown myself in my own failures as I contemplate grace. Ask God, and I think the true number is somewhere in the middle of all of this - somewhere between none at all and every breath.

This is another theological difficulty we run into with grace, by the way - the idea that our whole life is grace. It's true that our whole life is a gift, that it's only by God's goodness that we have any of this at all. But grace is a special thing. It's an amazing thing. And when we say our whole lives are grace, we set up this theology where God holds us hostage to grace. I don't think that's God, and I don't think that's grace. I think our lives are created, and filled, with passion and purpose and promise and love, and I think there's grace when we need it.

But how many of us are willing to say that we need it?

Standing in need of grace requires our falling flat on our faces. It requires us tripping over our own feet. It requires us failing and flailing and falling. It requires us admitting that sometimes, our lives look more like a reel of "America's Funniest Home Videos" than a steady walk on water. It requires us saying there are things that we can do, things we cannot do, and things we ought to have done better. It requires us asking forgiveness and seeking second chances, knowing full well that we messed up the first one.

These are not easy things for us to do. Especially not in a culture that places a high premium on performance. It doesn't always feel like there's a lot of room in our world for second chances. There are no ways of going back and doing it all over again. And there's some truth in that. Even grace doesn't give us the chance to go back.

But it gives us the chance to go forward.

See, grace doesn't erase our failures. It doesn't make up for our shortcomings. It doesn't go back and rewrite our stories so that those chapters don't appear in the final edit. Grace never pretends that a second chance is the same as a first or that learning how to stand means we have never fallen. That's what I love about grace. That's what we all love about grace.

Imagine the best stories you know...without grace. Remember the homeless guy with the incredible voice? What if he'd never been homeless? Or think about the men who come out of prison and start amazing programs. What if they'd never been in prison? Take the story of any recovered addict and try to tell it without the addiction. It loses something. It loses...everything. The reason we love the stories that we do is because they blossom in second chances. But they only grow in second chances because we do not forsake the first.

Grace makes things possible.

If I borrowed all the fingers and toes in all the world, I'm not sure I could count the number of second chances in my story. Not all of them have been of huge import; many are just the small things. I could probably count on just my own hands the number of second chances that have been real story-changers for me, the number of scenes where my story has shifted. And I'm humbled by this grace. Truly. Every day.

But still I play it off like it's no big thing, like the person that you see today is the person I've always been. Still I play it off like this second chance is really my first, like I haven't screwed it all up before. I don't know why I do this. I guess it's just...easier.

But it's not really amazing. 

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