No More Perfect Days: On Starting Over

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Lately my girls are obsessed with “perfect days.” I was too when I was little. I chased them like the unicorns they are.

A perfect day is a day in which you make perfect choices, a day with no missteps, no failures, and (especially) no sin. My girls say it’s a day when you never (not even one time) listen to temptation.

I remember sitting at my desk in fourth grade just after the sun had gone down, all the lights in my room turned off, hiding, hoping my parents wouldn’t find me. I didn’t want to see anybody; the risk was too high. I’d finally achieved the perfect day, and I knew, given the chance, I’d blow it.

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Eve’s crying in the back seat. I tell her, “Eve, it’s not a big deal. You said you were sorry. I forgave you. It’s okay.”

But Eve can’t stop crying. She says, “Mom, it’s a terrible day. I’m having a bad day. I’m bad all day today.” And she cries and cries…

Later I pick up London and it’s a bad day for her, too. She got on yellow at school (she never gets on yellow), and the minute I bring it up she weeps.

Both girls are volcanoes of guilt and angst. Over the next hour they whine about not getting ice cream. They push and kick one another. They disobey me again and again. Each girl is a mess, a puddle of her worst characteristics.

I tell them, “You’re okay. It’ll be okay.” But they protest: “Mom. It’s a bad day.”

I understand. I have bad days, too.

Tonight I drank a Coke. After committing to not drink Coke. After going almost a week with no Coke. I ordered a Coke. And once I’d ordered it, well, I was going to drink it. Inevitable.

Here’s the thing about drinking that Coke: Once I drank it, I wanted to drink another. Because I’d already blown my perfect day. So why not?

I have a friend who struggled for a long time with porn and for him it was always that way. He’d go months without watching anything, and then, in a moment of weakness, he’d watch something, one video. And once he’d watched it, it was like he couldn’t help watching something else. Why not watch all the porn on the internet?

Because he’d already blown his perfect day. Might as well start over tomorrow.

You guys know you do this…

With food. You eat one big meal, go way over your calories or far outside your boundaries, and you think, “Might as well eat all the cookies.” All. The. Cookies.

Or you say something mean to your spouse and you know you shouldn’t have said it but now you can’t shut up. You find yourself saying all the things you’ve been meaning to say but knew were better left unsaid.

Or you buy a shirt you can’t afford, and you think “That blew the budget.” And then you think, “Well, since I’ve already spent too much… What’s twenty more dollars?” And soon you’re walking to the parking lot with seven bags.

What is it with us? Why does one mistake make it so much more likely we’ll make another?

I think it has something to do with our “perfect day” complex. Either today is a perfect day or it’s a bad day.  One or the other. That means once it’s bad, it’s bad. No do-overs.

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Justin and I have some friends struggling in their marriage. There’s a lot of baggage—past indiscretions, a history of disrespect—so much bad to lug around. They’re not having a bad day; they’re having a bad couple of years.

Justin and I were talking about it on side by side treadmills at the gym the other day, about how hard it is to turn a marriage around when it’s gone for so long in the wrong direction. Justin said, “It’s always possible to start over. You just have to believe that’s true.”

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On the Day Of The Simultaneous Breakdowns I pulled my daughters London and Eve into my lap. I held them tight, kissed their foreheads. I said, “Tough day, huh?” “Yeah,” said London.

"You know girls," I said. "Just because the day’s been bad so far doesn’t mean it has to stay that way."

Eve glared with furrowed brow.

"Did you know," I said, "You can start over any time? Whenever you want to?"

Both girls seemed unsure…

"I mean it. You can start over the second after you’ve made a mistake. You can do something wrong and then immediately try again and get it right."

I said, “Jesus loves helping you start over. He says you can always start over. Right now, you can make today a brand new day.”

Mentioning Jesus did the trick. Both girls’ eyes lit up, smiles creeping across their faces.

London said, “I can start over right now?”

"Right now," I said.

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"You can always start over" is our new family mantra.

One of our girls will say something rude and we’ll say, “Try again.”

Justin will forget to do that thing I’ve been asking him to do for a week and he’ll say, “I’m sorry.” And I’ll forgive him and totally forget about it.

I’ll order a Coke and throw it away before I’ve finished it.

Because you can always start over—even half way through a bad decision.

In marriage, in parenting, in any relationship you have to be able to start over. You have to be able to say something stupid and come right back in the next breath and say “I’m sorry. That was stupid. Let me try again.”

Personally, too, you’ll never develop discipline or self control if you don’t let yourself start over. Right away. Now. Before it gets worse.

Christians have to be people who are constantly starting over, because when we adjust after each misstep, we never get too far off course.

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In I John, the apostle John writes,

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

This is a complicated passage of scripture. John says walk in the light. He says there is no darkness in the light. And then he says, if you’ll walk in the light, Jesus will purify you of all sin. If you just stopped there, you’d be totally confused. How can a person walk in the light and still sin?
Keep reading…
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Somehow, walking in the light doesn’t mean never messing up. It doesn’t mean a string of perfect days. It means living into the truth that you can always start over.
And if you will, if you’ll confess what went wrong and turn back toward what’s right, you will find those sins forgiven even as you walk, sins falling off like water wicked from a waterproof coat.
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F. Scott Fitzgerald said,

I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.

That’s my prayer for you today, that you’d not let a string of bad decisions in the past cripple your future, that you’d drop the weights of guilt and self-loathing, that you’d realize you don’t have to wait until tomorrow to start over.