A clean slate

December 22, 2018

IN a touching insight, Andy Andrews wrote, “I scour my heart clean in preparation for the New Year by forgiving those I need to forgive. And I always include that person who often seems to disappoint me the most… myself.”

Have you done something at work that you are still castigating yourself for? Maybe other people have long forgotten that incident. But not you. That deed still stings as if you have done it five minutes ago. Was it giving bum advice to your boss? Was it a lapse that strained a workplace relationship? Was it a bone-headed decision that cost the company money? Was it poor planning that created a lot of inconvenience to all involved?

Regret is basically the refusal to forgive oneself. It stems from having a perfectionistic vision for oneself, a life where we make no dumb mistakes, lousy choices or wrong turns. When cold reality reveals how flawed and foolish we really are, we refuse to grant ourselves emotional amnesty. Rather, we flog ourselves with castigating self-talk such as “How could I have been so stupid?” “I should have done or known better!” “What will people think of me now?”

I must admit I am the type who loves beating myself up. As I make a quick mental survey of the past year, what pops up are more of what I did wrong rather than what I did right.     That speaks of how bonded I have become with regrets, as if existence cannot be imagined in any other way. There were the blunders I committed at work. There were the moments I was insensitive to my wife. There were the nights and weekends which I could have used more productively.

If regret is the refusal to forgive oneself, Christmas heralds the basis for forgiveness. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21). Even the “sins” which we burden ourselves with -- the clutter in our hearts, the buyer’s remorse, the high road not taken -- Jesus came to forgive.

The Son of God has made His long-awaited debut as a helpless babe. A God so indescribably kind has reached down to a humanity so desperately conflicted. We deem ourselves undeserving of emotional pardon. We fear that self-exoneration violates some cosmic justice. We assume that we must somehow atone for those acts that we regret. But Jesus’ birth overrules our myopic concepts of self-worth. The infant will increase in stature and wisdom, live the regret-free life we long to live and satisfy that justice on the Cross.

Bethlehem foreshadows Calvary. We are immensely grateful that God forgives us so that we can forgive ourselves. It takes courage. It takes love. It takes Christmas.

We have all the right to exchange our regrets with rejoicing. I gaze beyond December 25 with fresh hope, renewed commitment and yes, a lighter spirit. Let us adore Him Who was born Christ the King!

May you and your loved ones have a blessed Yuletide season.

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