To make a clean break is, for most of us, is something we’d like to do every now and then. The temptation is to think that if we could just start something again that we’d get it right, that we’d do better this time. Those of us ion the debtor class, which in America is most of us, can be forgiven for thinking that if only we could go back again, or if we could only get out of debt we could do things differently.
I think that’s why people still play the lottery. It’s a chance to do things differently, a chance to start again, start afresh and to take a different path. I don’t know if it is just that, I assume that for some it is the lure of “easy money” and the culture that says that success and happiness are tied to your bank balance.
But for those in a deep hole it is just the chance to see more of the sky than the top of the hole allows. I still buy a ticket now and again but more because I am hopeful that there is a genetic component to lottery winning as my father and his brother have both won six figure lotteries.
The same things can be said for those who find themselves caught in a web of lies and deceptions. I understand, you start out trying not to hurt someone’s feelings, or trying to make yourself look good or trying to keep yourself from feeling foolish and in a very short time you can find yourself buried under the lie, and the lies that you have to tell afterwards to support the original lie, and the lies you have to ask other people to tell in order to support the lies you told to support the original lie.
It might just make you have to move to a new town, with new people who have never heard of you before so you can start new, make a clean break.
In the old days, you remember, when they sent away young women to “be with family” for a while, about seven months, and then they came back with a new baby “cousin” that they were going to take care of for a while. Or a new young lady would move to town, “recently widowed” with a child in tow, those kinds of old days, people did just that, they moved in order to make a break with their pasts.
You remake yourself, become someone new, get a chance to do things differently this time, do things better. A friend of mine could never quite seem to get ahead of his bills. Everything he tried just seemed to dig the hole deeper, and the stalling tactics were just not working anymore.
He declared bankruptcy, this was far enough back that you could still do that without having to be a huge corporation first; he gave up on buying things on credit, pays all his bills with cashier’s checks and sharply adjusted his lifestyle to reflect the new reality.
He’s never been happier. He appreciates the opportunity to make better decisions, loves the discipline it placed upon him, and mostly loved the idea of getting a second chance to be a person instead of being trapped as the person who had made all the mistakes, the bad decisions, who had a child and lost a relationship but somehow managed to keep the bills.
He took his clean break and is making the most of it.
One day he was one thing. The next day he was something else.
The burden of being the person he was, well-educated if a bit unwise, kind if a little naïve, loyal to a fault. That person could not tell people no and believed them when they said just five easy payments and extended himself beyond his actual reach because he cared about others unwisely and the world did not value his gifts as much as he thought that they might, he took a risk like they tell you to and fell quite badly to the ground.
The next day the very same man had the burden of that other man lifted from him. Not capriciously, it took him five years to come to the decision, but once the paperwork was filed and the attorney’s fees were paid he became a new person, chastened, fully aware that he had cheated himself out of about ten years of actual living because of his behavior, transformed by experience.
We don’t have five years to come to that kind of decision, that kind of clarity.
We have forty days every year.
Not to come to the understanding of our finances, we really ought to be paying attention to that all the time; not to punish ourselves through a deep and dark Lenten season for all the things we have done and all the things we have left undone, God knows my wife has been through enough of those.
No, we have the time, this forty days, to come to grips with ourselves, to know ourselves and each other, to begin to see ourselves through confessional eyes so that when forgiveness is actually declared, as it was here just a while ago, we can see it for what it is, like rainfall after a drought, like sunshine after the rain.
It is a clean break.
We spend Lent learning to see with new eyes, that are sins are real and that they separate us from God but also that they are not the last word, they are not the end of the story and the end of us.
This day shall mark for you the beginning of days, the emergence of you from the forty day journey of confession into the light of forgiveness, the life you can live illuminated not by the bright spotlight of the Law and all of its accusations, its burdening of the soul, but by the grace of God, which comes in the lifting of your burdens.
No longer is there the need to wonder if you are doing enough, if you are good enough if God could ever overlook whatever it is that plagues you. People have asked me all the moral deliberation questions you could ever imagine; is it stealing if your children are starving? What about people you kill in a war? That’s not big enough to count, is it? I mean it’s just a ream of paper a couple of pens an adding machine a ten pound ham a hymnal a bible a coffee cup. Whatever.
You’ve spent forty days getting to know that person and their foibles, their flaws, their faults.
Kiss them goodbye, I’ll be happy to preach their funeral.
Begin to live a new life in the forgiveness and grace of God, answering the calling to turn from sin, from selfish attachments and prideful, arrogant living. Instead of standing over others, kneel before them and know what Jesus meant when he commended this act to us, recommended to us that we give this gift to one another.
It’s a little weird, I’ll grant you. But how small a thing to get over when all that is being offered to you is everything.