For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
The following is a story about how God redeems the past…
I was 10 years old the first time I witnessed a severe injury. I didn’t see it actually happen, but when that boy’s leg dangled in the arms of that frantic Turkish cab driver, my first thoughts were horror and a revolting smugness about the victim.
Tom* lived in the apartment building behind ours. He took a disturbing delight in harassing the many stray cats that hung around in the alley below and on the dirt hill between our buildings. I heard murmuring of his family situation, and as best I could tell, it was a bit of a mess. His penchant for mischief reflected too little parental supervision–at least, that’s what I gathered from the conversations I eavesdropped on.
The truth was I couldn’t stand Tom and the way he picked on the cats and other kids. As Americans in a foreign country, we were already in a minority. It seemed wrong that he was against so many of us, when in my mind, we should have banded together. Tom seemed to take distinct pleasure in irritating anyone.
That afternoon, when the front door to the building buzzed incessantly, I crossed the living room to look out over the balcony. Peering over, I saw a frantic Turk holding a strawberry blond, bleeding and hollering American child.
Tearing down the stairs, I opened the door for him as he thrust this wailing, bleeding boy in my face. He spoke no English, leaving me standing helpless in the swirl of his Turkish words. Tom just wailed and cried, his shinbone sticking out of his leg.
I don’t remember who came next; somehow somebody handled the situation, probably our Turkish landlord.
It turned out that Tom had been skateboarding down the hill on the side of our buildings. The trouble was, the cab driver didn’t see him as he rounded the corner, ascending the hill, and the two of them collided.
It seems odd to me that this memory surfaces now, more than twenty years later, because as it comes, it appears irrelevant to the happenings in my life at this moment. But it is, in fact, fully relevant.
As I spend time in prayer and reflection over my life during Lent, memories do tend to surface. This story is important because of my own reaction to this event.
As I stood there looking at Tom’s blood pouring down the front of this poor man, onto the alabaster marble floor, my heart was not filled with pity or even compassion. Instead I remember a distinct (warped) feeling of justice rising up in me. Tom was a jerk. He’d done nothing but mess with my friends and me every day for a year. He’d stoned innocent cats and made fun of my little brother. I’d hated him and justified my feelings by accounting for his sins.
Seeing him broken and crying felt like justice. How many times had he made others cry? How many mean and painful things had others endured through his efforts? Looking at him, the only thought I remember thinking was, “Serves him right.”
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. (Psalm 51:7)
When this memory surfaced the other day, I tried my best to beat it back. I haven’t thought about this event in years, so why now? When memories like this surface, I have learned to take them to the Lord. I lay them out at His feet and say, “What now? What is it you need me to see? What do I do with this?” I can’t undo my horrid thoughts or behavior. I can’t un-live the life I’ve lived before Christ took up residency in me.
So what do I do?
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 51: 10)
There’s no statute of limitation on sin. Unrepented sin doesn’t get a pass because it’s old. Though God has mercifully changed my heart, I still hoard a heap of ugly that has yet to be laid bare before Him.
The truth is, my inward rejoicing over Tom’s injury is only one instance of my own distorted notions of justice. My pride hoisted me above Tom on the scale of worthy human beings. My own distorted pride actually kept me poised above a great many people I’ve known in my life.
The truth is, though my sins may be less obvious than Tom’s were to me then, I am just as much in need of mercy.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation, (Psalm 51:14)
When we invite God into the folds of our memory, when we come to Him in need of a heart change, He is faithful to bring it about. This inward turning of our eyes can throb and singe, but it’s the only way. We need God’s light in the dark places of our lives. We need His hard sifting, separating the good from the waste.
As I’ve sat with God and this memory, I’ve grieved over my old attitudes. I’ve repented again of my pride and merciless ways. I’ve been able to rejoice all the more for the work God is doing in me now, because I know that I am not that same cruel child I once was. Seeing this ugly piece of my history serves as a testimony of God’s redemptive work in my life. I am a new creation.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)
As you continue to wander through this Lenten season, I pray you willingly invite God all the way in to the corners of your heart and mind. Let Him redeem your past, and restore to you the joy of His salvation.
Open, repentant confession before God serves as the gateway to freedom. Confession allows for forgiveness, which makes us receptive to the redemptive work of Christ. When His mercy infiltrates our hearts we turn from being focused on our sins, to being focused on the Son. (Holey, Wholly, Holy: Companion Workbook)
*The boy’s name has been changed for the purpose of this story.
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