Because of the Lord’s faithful love
we do not perish, for his mercies never end.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness!
Lamentations 3:22-23 (CSB)
As we ate our takeout and queued up our shows on the DVR, my husband and I caught up on the business of the week. We talked again about our daughter’s behavior, and I confessed something I’d realized about the situation. “I can’t start fresh,” I whispered. “My frustrations just keep building and building, and there’s no break, no relief, no blank slate.”
The conversations about our daughter’s disobedience and disrespect began bringing other issues to the table — namely, our tempers. We realized that our short fuses were contributing to the problem, but we didn’t know how to fix it. And I knew that this fresh start thing was part of it.
Without a fresh start, there’s no forgiveness. And without forgiveness, I couldn’t find my way out of the garbage heap of anger. I couldn’t see the light of grace.
Of course, everyone says that admitting your problem is the first step — and it is. But even though this realization — and the courage to describe it out loud to my husband — felt huge, it wasn’t enough. I needed to make a change for our family. I needed to do something different.
I wish I could say that difference happened naturally, on its own, that somehow I magically learned how to forgive and forget and shower my child and myself with grace. But that wouldn’t be true.
What happened instead was that I kept feeling angry and frustrated; I kept losing my temper with my disobedient, disrespectful little girl. And I kept remembering that I am part of the problem. I would put her to bed, so mad at the latest argument and so glad to be finished with the day, and then I would cry because I didn’t know how to stop feeling that way.
But then as I lamented our struggle to her first-grade teacher, something did change. My daughter’s teacher suggested we use the same color-coded behavior chart at home that they use in the classroom. I knew several months into this school year how important the color chart was to my daughter.
Every afternoon, her response to my question, “How was your day?” was what color she was on: A green day was good, average, normal, nothing to see here. A yellow (or even red) day meant she was crying before she even got in the car. A blue or pink day, though, was cause for celebration — high fives and hugs all around!
We’d made a half-hearted attempt to use a color chart at home before, and it didn’t help at all. But at this point, I was not just angry and frustrated; I was disappointed in myself and a little desperate for help.
And it worked. It worked! But not for the reasons I expected.
See, at school the colors came with consequences, and the good colors came with prizes. Plus, students had the added incentive of their classmates knowing where they stood each day. But none of that was in play at home. I wasn’t about to give out prizes for simple obedience, and her baby sister didn’t care what color my daughter was on.
What made the difference was that at the end of the day, no matter how ugly or difficult or red it was, I moved my daughter’s pin back to green. Every day started at green. Every day started fresh, blank, clean. It had the potential to be better or worse, but it started on green.
Something about physically moving that clothespin back to the green spot on our laminated color chart reset my heart, too. Even after the worst days, that simple gesture lifted a burden from my heart. Moving my daughter’s pin back to green let me breathe again. It helped me love her better, again. And it reminded me that because of God’s great mercy I get to start on green each day, too.
Though I struggle to be a good mom some days (or some years), God is the perfect heavenly Father. So it should have been no surprise that His methods work for me, too. God promises to wipe our slate clean, to remove our sin as far as the east is from the west. In the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, He offers us an abundance of mercy — and then He promises to refill that overflowing cup every single day.
Part of the Lent season is humbling ourselves. It is lowering our defenses and our pride, allowing God to strip away our sin and our distractions. It’s the grueling work of meaning it when we say, “more of you, less of me,” to our holy and mighty God. But though we begin this season there, God doesn’t leave us in our guilt and shame. He doesn’t force us out of the garden, naked and trembling. No, instead, He reaches for us and covers us in His grace. He erases every sin we confess and loves us through the entire process.
Just like my daughter gets to start on green, so do we. Even when we’re our most disobedient, we are forgiven. And we get to start over again. When we’re washed clean by the blood of Jesus, we get a fresh start. What a precious gift!
Heavenly Father, thank You for loving me so much better than I can ever love my own children. Thank You for adopting me into Your family and loving me even when I’m as disobedient as a child! And thank You for forgiving my every sin, wiping the slate clean, and giving me a fresh start each day. Because, Lord, I mess up every day. I need Your grace every day. And I’m so grateful for it! Thank You, God. I love you. Amen.
Excerpt from Journey to the Cross: Forty Days to Prepare Your Heart for Easter by Mary Carver.
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