Children call it a “do over.” Golfers call it a “mulligan.” Television and film directors call it a “retake.” By whatever name, it is the realization that something we just did didn’t work, wasn’t right or was out of bounds. We failed, and we now have the opportunity to do it again as if for the very first time – no penalty, no cost, just a new free chance to begin again.
In child’s play the question of whether or not a do over is allowed is up to the group: A seasoned player yelling “Do over! I wasn’t ready!” doesn’t usually cut it. But that same seasoned player declaring a “Do over!” for a rookie usually does. We grant grace to those who are learning because we remember what it was like to try something for the first time.
On the links, whether or not you are granted a mulligan is up to your playing companions. You won’t find it anywhere in the official rules of the game, but the granting of mulligans among hackers is a frequent practice. We grant grace to others because we know how much we are going to need their grace on the holes that lie ahead.
And when the director yells “cut,” it’s an indication that someone or something on the set has failed to meet expectations. “Scene 47, Take 9, from the top, and … action,” would not be unusual to hear on any movie set. The 47 simply places the scene in the sequence of the overall film, but take 9 tells us how many times they’ve tried and failed to get the scene just right. No matter how far into the scene they might have been, now they must begin again, again.
There is a lot of beginning again, again in life. New years, new months, new weeks, new mercies, each new day, are all opportunities to begin again, again. From turning the page on the calendar to closing the books on the year now passing, this is a time of beginning again, again. Night falls and morning rises, and we begin again, again. Winter yields to spring, and we begin again, again. A child is born, and we begin again, again. A loved one dies, and we begin again, again. Sunday comes, and we begin again, again.
If anyone is in Christ, there is the eternal offer to begin again, again: The offer of a clean slate, a fresh start, forgiveness, renewal, recreation – whenever we need and every time we ask.
In order to be made new in Christ, we must be willing to break with the past. We must be willing to die to ourselves in order to live in Christ. In the spiritual realm, death precedes life. God promises a new heaven and new earth – but only after the first heaven and the first earth pass away and the sea is no more. God offers us salvation in Jesus Christ – but only after the King of kings and Lord of lords died on a cross to atone for our sins. God extends to us the opportunity to begin again again with a clean heart and fresh slate every moment, but only after we confess our sins and ask Him to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Breaking with the past is difficult. Acknowledging that we don’t know it all, admitting that we’ve made mistakes, agreeing with the evidence that our lives are off track and our thoughts are off base, confessing our sins of thought, word and deed, commission and omission, is hard to do. But if I want to begin again, again, then I have to put to death sinful ways. If I am going to call others to be reconciled to God then I first must be reconciled to God myself and that only happens by putting to death the former things – that in Christ I can become, by God’s grace, a new creation.
Beginning again, again is difficult because it requires change, but it is also profoundly simple because God is the one who does all the work. All we have to do is yield. Like going to sleep with the confident faith that when we awake, God will have delivered us into a new day, beginning again, again in Christ requires only the submission of our lives into the gracious hands of a loving and faithful God.
Let’s face it, God knows more than we do. God knows more about our families, more about our work, more about our love lives, more about our kids, more about our community, more about our world and certainly more about the church than we could ever hope to know. His ways and His thoughts, His perspective and His plan are vastly more perfect than anything mere mortals could conceive. Let us then put our trust fully in God, who has revealed His perfect will in the Bible. Let’s trust that He will make perfect provision for us as a part of His redemptive plan.
Beginning again, again is rarely planned but should always be expected. We’re imperfect people, and this side of heaven we’re going to live in the continual cycle of newness by God’s grace: Rebellion in sin, confession and repentance, forgiveness by grace through faith in Christ and newness again by God’s mercy.
I invite you today to begin again, again. I invite you personally to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. Confess your sins and allow God to wipe the slate of your life clean. No matter how far along you are in the Christian adventure, or if you’re just beginning again for the first time today, invite God to create in you a clean heart and renew a right spirit within you. I entreat you, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. Begin again with Him.
Carmen Fowler is president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee and executive editor of its publications.