I began a new journal today; the old one was filled up with ink, coffee stains and tears. All the struggles and inconsistencies of previous days and weeks are on another calendar now, archived for no one to see. All the records of Israel-like cycles of sin and blessing sit on a shelf somewhere in my office with the others. Somewhere on a shelf, forgotten and faded.
This one is fresh, clean like a white canvas, eager to be painted with brilliant new color and shape, painted as if for the first time. It’s the same feeling I get at the start of a new year, or sometimes a new day. It’s the feeling that I get to start over, as if the thoughts and events and actions of last year or yesterday— or my whole life— were of no consequence any longer. As if the days past had no part in the making of who I am today, just because the pages in my journals are now hiding on a shelf somewhere.
I should like to set them aside and pretend that the struggling saint of those pages is no more, to boast that today we are on a level playing field, God and I. That today, He might read my journal and say— to Himself, of course— I’m letting Will start over. I’m unilaterally breaking all his vices. No more impatience, selfishness, laziness, impure thoughts, or greed. Those are chapters from another book. Will gets to write a new book now. It is ludicrous, I know. That is why I wrote it out, just to see how insane my thoughts and desires can be.
But given a new start, things would certainly be “different from now on”. I would be disciplined and consistent and organized, kind and gentle and slow to speak.
Momentum is fickle. You can’t trust it to take you from one day to the next, or into the next moment. My best energy runs out long before my intentions are realized. My purest motives are undermined by sin and folly. I can’t just be someone that I have not been becoming.
Too often I think of grace as a clean slate. That would be more like neglect. Grace is not a “re-do.” It’s not like starting a new journal. Grace is the ink on those pages, the very presence of God’s listening ear and strong hand. Grace is the shelf in my office, holding all the pages of my past, displaying the splendor of God in them. Grace is a penetrating light, exposing my arrogant desires to level the playing field, to be good enough. Grace does not hide from the messy reality of my ragged and duplicitous life, or in the vain imaginations of starting over. How could it? That is precisely where grace intends to live and move, working out the righteous law of God in my thoughts, emotions and deeds.
So I won’t pretend that my life starts over today. I’ll forsake the “fresh start”. I’ll fight against my flesh, my unrelenting and ruthless flesh. This will not be easy, for there is comfort in pretending, and there are sins that I have come to enjoy. I suspect there exist sins that I do not even recognize because of my familiarity with it. It will all have to be purged, but I will not merely try to gag myself. I would then just binge on self-righteousness. Though genuine change seems so distant, my hope is this: if by my own power I formed my character into what it is, and mostly under the rule of sin, will not Jesus, who has set me free from the law of sin and death, by His power transform it? Indeed He can and will. Nothing can stop Him, and I shall certainly not try by trusting in my own efforts or intentions. Jesus is my only hope. I’ll wrap my ragged and redeemed self around Him and hold on for dear Life.[Will Walker works for Campus Crusade for Christ, makes his home in Austin, TX with his wife Debbie, 2 year old son Ethan, and skittish mutt Abby.]