Thursday morning, I sat in my sunroom with my first cup of good coffee in what felt like a lifetime. I’d been gone on a work trip for 8 days, leaving my husband Chris, and son Matt to hold down the fort in my absence. Their job was pretty easy, a daily list that fit on one, small Post-It: feed Bess and George (our daughter, Katie’s fish), get the mail, and water all my potted plants and hanging baskets.
Chris met me at the airport Wednesday night, and one of the first things out of his mouth was, “I have some sad news – Bess is dead! I don’t understand what happened, I fed them every day, and I even talked to them! I was just thinking I was so proud of us for not killing them, and then I found her floating sideways this morning.” We shared a horrified laugh as we recalled what drama these fish have been in the short time Katie has had them, and then tried to figure out how best to break the news to her.
I was still trying to come up with a plan as I sat and sipped my coffee that morning. I looked over the rim of my mug, out the window overlooking my deck, and froze. My plants! My beautiful tomato and jalapeno and basil plants that were prolifically producing when I left last week – also dead! Matt saw my distress, and began to apologize profusely. “I’m SO sorry, Mom! I thought Dad was watering them, and I know he moved some of them so they’d get rain, and it rained a lot…and they were probably almost done anyway, weren’t they?” I assured him that it was okay – disappointing – but in the grand scheme of things, not that big of a deal. I think my response surprised both of us.
As he thanked me for being so forgiving of their mistake, I smiled as I realized what a perfect picture I was being given to illustrate the reality of what I had just experienced. For the past year, I have been doing training intensives in peacemaking, and last week I had the opportunity to work on a team facilitating a peacemaking process for a large church staff. My heart is full of the faces and stories of men and women who shared painful stories of mistakes they’d made, and of harm they’d experienced from others. The offenses had been building for years, leaving them isolated, in conflict with each other, and afraid to speak up – they were drowning in a pervasive culture of fear.
The theme that kept coming back around, over and over, was a failure to love, because here’s the thing – fear and love don’t peacefully co-exist. And here’s the other thing – we all fear, and we all fail to love.
As I watched them struggle over the week to deal with all the hurt that divided them, I was reminded of my own failures to love. It was, in fact, my own experiences of conflict in relationship that led me to love the peacemaking process. There is something incredibly freeing in offering a heartfelt confession when you admit how your heart has essentially been “at war” with another person’s – ignoring our God-given impulse to love. And sadly, peacemaking is counter-cultural; our culture stands ready with justifications for our position as the offended party. Just try doing a Google search of images for “second chances”, I did, and was stunned at how few held anything redemptive or loving. Most were like these:
• I believe in second chances, I just don’t think everyone deserves them.
• Give people a second chance, but not a third.
• You had your chance. You blew it. No second chances.
• Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.
• You don’t deserve a second chance if you haven’t learned from your first mistake.
Actually, the first and last ones have a bit of truth in them; because the truth is that none of us deserve a second chance.
If our radical, loving pursuit of peace was limited to those who deserved it, we would all be doomed.
Rather, the pursuit of peace is born out of a deep, sacrificial knowing that just as I have been wronged, I have also profoundly wronged others…and am still deeply loved by the Father. How could I do anything but pursue peace, confessing and extending forgiveness, honoring the command to love?
Some may fear that peacemaking is encouraging some cheap version of an “I said I was sorry, now let’s move on” kind of forgiveness, when actually nothing could be further from the truth. An essential part of the process in making a confession, for example, is pondering and naming not only the specifics of how you caused harm, but also naming what you would do differently if you had it to do over again. The reality is, we can’t often literally “do it over again”, but we can begin to imagine a different future, a future filled with second chances.
I decided on Thursday that perhaps there was a second chance for my plants; that just maybe, there was a Miracle Max kind of moment waiting for them. (Miracle Max of Princess Bride fame proclaims, “It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive.”) So I lovingly tended them: cut away all the dead stalks, watered and fed them, and waited. And it was true; there was still some life in them!
May we be people who love boldly, who pursue peace relentlessly, believing that second chances are always worth it as long as there is still the slightest bit of life left in us.
Janet Stark is a woman learning to bless her depth and sensitivity. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband, Chris and their kids and grandkids. Janet loves curling up with a good book, trying new recipes on her friends and family, and enjoying long conversations with friends over a cup of really good coffee. She is a life-long lover of words and writes about her experiences here.