“Can we have a do-over?”
This was not a question I heard in my childhood, but one which has often been repeated in adulthood. “We got off on the wrong foot,” someone will say, “Can we start again?” And, with a strange blend of humility and artifice, the two who got into a relational tousle will start the conversation again. This time with more patience. More grace. Less one-upmanship.
It’s a device I use with my children: rather than rebuking them for whining and disrespect, I invite them to do a do-over. “Would you like to try asking me that again in a normal voice?” With dipped decibels, my little ones reformulate their words. Kinder. Softer. More respectfully. Experience has taught them that yelling at Mommy doesn’t yield the desired results. We are learning—one LEGO-fight at a time—that a gentle answer turns away wrath.
But there are some things for which there are no do-overs. Some words we can’t unsay. Some actions we can’t undo. Some things we can’t unhear or unsee—a fact that constantly terrifies me in the world of accidental clicks of the internet.
We cannot take back that terrible thing we said which jabbed at our friend’s deepest insecurity. We cannot wrestle back the relentless arms of the ticking clock to the moment before we crashed the car, or succumbed to infidelity, or pushed send on the email with the blistering, angry, self-righteous words. I know I am not the only one who has sat with a thick lump of shame and remorse wedged in my throat at the damage I can, and shamefully do, inflict.
For these things there are no do-overs. The human heart is not an app that will re-start without glitches. We are made of flesh. We bruise.
My son upended a bag of apples into the fruit bowl and a few of them came crashing to the floor. He skittered about to pick them up, polishing them tenderly against his shirt to try and restore them to their shiny glory, but their skins bore indelible evidence of their injury.
“We are like apples, not apps,” I thought.
For these breaches and bruises and betrayals, there are no do-overs. For these desecrations, our only hope is grace. When we have broken a bruised reed, or snuffed out a smoldering wick; there is no way forward without forgiveness.
This is the currency of the divine. Adam and Eve were not offered a do-over; they were offered grace. David, in his tormented confession of adultery and murder, knew there was no way to undo the evil he had done and threw himself upon the grace of God: “… but with you, there is forgiveness.” —Psalm 140:3
I don’t get do-overs either. I don’t get to take back the words I said, the betrayals I inflicted, the hearts I wounded.
But my inability to go back and fix it does not mean I am not able to move forward. My screw-ups would be paralyzing were it not for the balm of grace. There is no do-over, but there is the gentle hand of a Savior who—assuring me that he has paid the price for my failure—bids me to get off the floor and keep walking. I will try again. I will fall again. He will help again.
And so we move forward: humbled, penitent, forgiven, and hopeful.