“Begin again with joy”

A huge part of growing up is accepting that things won’t always go your way. An obvious statement, perhaps. It’s easy to realize, but difficult to accept.

I have made many mistakes in my life, but there always seemed to be something I could do to avoid, or at least mitigate, the damage. Rationalize it. Tell a white lie. Tell a half-truth. Apologize profusely. Make amends. There’s always…something. Likewise with things that are beyond my control — there have been times when I’d seen trouble brewing and threatening to spill out of the cauldron — deep in my subconscious I always believed I could hatch a strategy to prevent the seemingly inevitable outcome. I don’t always succeed, but I guess I had a good enough track record to fuel such delusion.

But at some point, I had to learn that I’m not the playwright, and that I’m not God. My will cannot and will not always prevail. I have the freedom to do what I choose, but I can’t expect freedom from the consequences of my actions.

Somewhere along the way, I’d somehow come to believe that all damage can be repaired. Love, compassion, grace, mercy — those are all good things — so they must always prevail, right? They must be able to erase any wrongdoing, right? I don’t mean to say I have lost faith in those things; I still believe with every fibre of my being that they are the most powerful forces of healing. But I did learn that you cannot feel entitled to those things.

Say you hurt someone you love. You can ask for forgiveness, but you cannot demand it. You can extend a hand of reconciliation, but you cannot force it on them. Say you lose the esteem and respect of some people. You cannot argue your way back into their good books. To attempt to do these things only shows how out of touch you are with human nature. And it shows a lack respect for others’ free will.

What you can do is humbly acknowledge that you did wrong, apologize, and ask for forgiveness. And after all is said and done, accept the outcome. Whether or not it’s what you’d hoped.

And then? Move forward. Begin again. (Kicking and screaming is not recommended — it only makes things worse.)

These words by Pope Benedict XVI have taught me much:

Holiness does not consist in not making mistakes and never sinning. Holiness grows with capacity for conversion, repentance, willingness to begin again, and above all with the capacity for reconciliation and forgiveness.

Conversion, repentance, and willingness to begin again. I never had too much difficulty with the first two — but beginning again? That one’s proved to be the hardest part.

We don’t like having to start over. We prefer to pick up where we left off. It’s a lot less painful, it requires less work, it’s far more convenient. We stubbornly insist on fixing the old so as to avoid having to build something new from scratch.

But the greatest hindrance to beginning again, I’ve found, is the inability to forgive oneself. When we don’t get our desired resolution, we twist that into the belief that we are irredeemable. But the truth is that even if the situation was irredeemable, we are not irredeemable. Nobody is condemning us — nobody but ourselves.

Following a series of painful events, I sank into deep depression and got myself stuck. I buried myself under the rubble of my mistakes and failings, I wrapped myself in a cocoon of guilt and shame. I didn’t believe I had any right to be free, not unless I obtained the idealistic outcome my heart so deeply desired. So I just waited, and waited, and waited, and put my life on hold. I believed that my mistakes had permanently disqualified me from doing anything good. I understood that God had forgiven me, and that I had been washed clean by His blood and mercy, and yet I chose to base my worth on the (real or imagined) opinions of others.

The beautiful part is that when you fail to recognize the power of God’s mercy, when you fail to hear His invitation to enter into His joy, He sometimes sends people to help you. These are the people in your life who see more than your failings and mistakes. They see your potential for growth and support you as you strive towards holiness.

These are the people who will help you dig your way out of that miry grave of guilt and self-condemnation you have heaped upon yourself, and who will remind you that there is no need for that.

No, it doesn’t mean they will blindly and indiscriminately defend you. They are not there to imbue you with a false sense of self-righteousness. But they will affirm your capacity for growth; they will affirm the truth that your mistakes do not invalidate your dignity.

I’m learning that you cannot hold your breath waiting to win back everybody’s approval. It’s not fair to the people who love you and need you. And you shouldn’t deprive the world of your gifts on account of those who do not see them. But most of all, you should not deny and cheapen God’s love for you.

Beginning again is scary. But it’s the only way to experience God’s healing mercy. As the wise Blessed Mother Teresa said, “Do not let the past disturb you — just leave everything in the Sacred Heart, and begin again with joy.”

Begin again with joy. It can seem like an impossible exhortation at times. How do we muster up that joy while plagued with guilt, fear, and uncertainty? Or when you feel like such a horrible person that you’re better off dead? It can be hard to feel joyful about having to begin again, but do it anyway. The joy will come later. It will come when God shows you that you were right to place your trust in Him while your heart was screaming THERE IS NO HOPE, when He shows you that you were right to step out into the deep while your mind screamed THERE IS NO JESUS TO CATCH YOU.

The joy will come when you learn that yes, in Jesus’ hands we are never damaged beyond repair. That we can toss our ugliest mistakes into that blazing furnace of His Sacred Heart, to be purified and transformed for the good of our souls.

This was inspired by the words of Blessed Mother Teresa: “Do not let the past disturb you — just leave everything in the Sacred Heart and begin again with joy.”

6 thoughts on ““Begin again with joy”

  1. Excellent post, filled with God’s wisdom/truth. I constantly seek/pray to get this truth across to others. There is hardly any more important part of my ministry as a pastor-teacher in Japan, because “beginning again with joy” is a good description of the repentance that leads to salvation.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think beginning again also applies not just to forgiving yourself, but also others and being prepared to take a risk and do something, even when you’ve been hurt before. Nice that you are writing again.

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  3. Karenzai, I appreciate so much the sentiments you expressed in this writing. Although I do not adhere to the Catholic faith, the quotes you shared here did have many elements of wisdom contained within them, which can be applied to our lives. I am with you in your journey in where God has brought you, and where he is taking you now. I have been where you were, to some extent, and I know what it is like to feel broken and beyond repair. I know far too well the feelings of guilt you expressed, but I also rejoice in God’s healing mercies in my life, too.

    His love lifted me out of a pit of despair, and he gave me a new beginning, as well. It amazes me that he would choose me, who failed him greatly, but he did, but not because of me, but because he loves me, and because of his power at work in my life and what he knew he wanted to accomplish through me. The important thing, which I think you have gotten, is not to kick yourself over past failures, but to believe God for restoration and healing, but also not to console yourself in sin, but to repent, and to turn away from all wrong doing, and to keep walking with God where he leads. God bless you on your journey with him. Sue

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  4. This has been a painful and difficult lesson for me to learn. I had to finally figure out that my intentions didn’t matter, the reasons I’d caused the pain I had – which had been unknown to me and outside of my ability to control – didn’t matter, my feelings & desires didn’t matter, all that mattered was that I accept, acknowledge, and take ownership of the harm & hurt I’d caused. I had to learn to see and validate the truth and experience of me and how my actions had affected them, without trying to defend myself. Then, I had to be willing to walk away, leaving expectation of the reward of forgiveness and reconciled relationship.

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    1. Oh my goodness, thank you so much for sharing that. I can identify in every way and it was a most difficult thing for me to swallow as well. I didn’t mention it at all in my post, but indeed the mistakes I alluded to, I made while I was unstable psychologically/mentally. The temptation to want to defend ourselves is so great. But it’s true that we have to take responsibility for our actions, just as a drunk driver has to take responsibility for a crash. It was also a huge wake-up call to take my mental health more seriously, which I thankfully am doing now.

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