You Need a Do-Over

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@ 1991 Columbia Pictures

City Slickers is a film about three Manhattan men, lifelong friends, who are wrestling with the harrowing approach of middle age. 

Together they head out West in the hope of finding adventure (and maybe even themselves) by participating in a cattle drive. 

One of the characters, named Phil (played by Daniel Stern, wearing the white hat), has recently seen his life become a train wreck.  He’s been stuck in a dead-end job in his father-in-law’s grocery and is now facing divorce.  He breaks down crying.  “I’m at a dead end!” he sobs.  “I’m almost forty years old.  I’ve wasted my life.”

His friends rush to console him.  “Phil,” says one of them, “now you’ve got a chance to start over.  Remember when we were kids and we’d be playing ball and the ball would get stuck up in a tree or something?  We’d yell, Do over!  Look, Phil – your life is a do-over.  You’ve got a clean slate!” 

There’s no smile or sense of relief on Phil’s face as he answers, “I’ve got no place to live.  I’m going to get wiped out in the divorce because I committed adultery.  I may never see my kids again.  I’m alone.  How’s that slate look now?”

Phil desperately needs a “do-over.”  But how will he ever get past the debris field of mistakes and false starts trailing behind his life?  

Many of us wonder if our lives, too, might somehow come undone.  Life-altering interruptions, after all, are not the exception.  They are the rule.  We might even say that God is in the interruption business.  On the road to the destination of our choice, suddenly we are stopped in our tracks – perhaps by a drunk driver, a doctor’s mistake, a frivolous lawsuit that wipes out our savings, or an economic downtown that plunges us into unemployment and bankruptcy. 

Or, like Phil, we may blunder our way into a place that feels as if there are no exits.

His friends see this as a moment of hope – the chance to begin again.  All of us need such hope: the assurance that our present and our future aren’t held hostage to what has happened in the past. 

God is faithful in such moments.  God speaks to us in the midst of unwelcome, life-changing interruptions.  How we respond is primarily what determines our character and our future.

The church is the community of interrupted lives.  It’s the place where men and women are free to ask a pair of crucial questions:  “God, who are you?  Who are you, really?”  And, “Now that I’m stuck at this intersection, where in the world do I go next?”

Most of us wouldn’t be nearly as open to trusting God – we might even conclude that we don’t need a Savior – unless our own plans and security systems go down in flames. 

In his book When God Interrupts, Princeton seminary president Craig Barnes points out that at life-altering moments people can go one of two ways.  We can either turn our hearts toward what we have lost (or are still in the process of losing), or we can open our hearts to the life that Jesus alone is able to provide.

In so many ways, it’s easy to label 2020 as the Big Interruption – a maddening, confusing, soul-crushing stretch of months, with no end in sight. 

Or we can see this year as a gift like no other.   

Jarring moments are some God’s hardest-to-receive gifts.  But they are gifts nonetheless. 

What we perceive as “failures” may be his successes.  Our “setbacks” may prove to be his turning points.  Our “disasters” may turn out to be God’s greatest triumphs.  God is even able to turn our worst mistakes into his victories – if they become the means by which we open ourselves more than ever to a Christ-pursuing life. 

Are you longing right now for some version of Plan A you may never get to see again?

Or are you allowing this year’s interruptions to open your eyes to the do-over that Jesus is offering in Plan B?

That’s an adventure we all can have.

And we don’t even need to head out West.