A chance to start over

2/24/2006

"Draw near to God and God will draw near to you." -James 4:8

By BISHOP ROBERT E. HAYES JR.

Isn't it strange how certain memories can stay with us for a long, long time? There is no way for us to remember every experience over the course of our lives, but we must admit there are some memories that refuse to go away.

Right now, I',m thinking about something that happened to me more than 40 years ago, and the memory of that moment is as clear today as it was when it took place in Mrs. Anderson's ninth-grade algebra class.

In order for you to truly appreciate my experience, you need to know I considered math and algebra as foreign languages. There were French, Spanish, German, Latin, and math and algebra.

And then there was Mrs. Anderson, a veteran of many semesters who ran her classroom like an Army drill sergeant working over first-day recruits. It was rumored although I could never verify it that Mrs. Anderson was a distant relative of Attila the Hun. Her weapon of choice was a 12-inch ruler, lethal and swift. Her stare could both paralyze and scare you half to death.

She was the enforcer, and everyone in the ninth grade steered clear of Mrs. Anderson until forced to take her class.

Mrs. Anderson had a horrifying habit of sending students to the board to solve algebra problems in front of the entire class. I struggled inwardly with not being able to speak the language no habla algebra but to demonstrate that before my peers was truly terrifying.

The day that stands out so vividly in my mind was the day I was called to the blackboard to solve a problem that would have troubled Einstein himself. In the five minutes or so allotted me to answer the problem, I died a thousand deaths. My sweaty palms soaked the white chalk, rendering it useless; the dust from the board settled all over my face; and the laughter from my fellow students intensely worsened the matter.

Then Mrs. Anderson walked over to me. I braced myself for a swift stroke from her ruler.

She put her arms around me and said, "Let's start over!"

To my amazement, she erased all my errors and walked me through the problem, step by step. When she finished, she smiled at me and encouraged me to do better the next time I was called to the board.

I've finally realized why that day stands out so clearly in my mind. It was the day I was given another chance, an opportunity to start over and get something right. Algebra didn't get any easier, but my appreciation for new beginnings was solidified.

Lent: Opportunity for a new beginning

We have come again to the season of Lent. It begins in just a few days Ash Wednesday and extends over 40 days, excluding Sundays, until sunset on Easter Eve.

Lent affords us the best opportunity in the Christian year to seek forgiveness of our sins and to get right with God. It's a special time when we are reminded God gives us a chance to start over.

I can think of nothing more inspiring than being able to correct some of the mistakes I've made, to wipe clean the slate of my sins!

With God's help, I hope and pray we use this Lenten season to look deep within ourselves to find the faults and feelings that have kept us away from a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God and our Christian brothers and sisters.

Lent is not a season where we forego some trifle each day; it is far more than abstaining from some indulgence just to "be in God's favor."

The second chapter of Joel tells us: "Rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord, your God, for God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love."

Because our Christianity seems to many people to cost us little or nothing these days, it seems to be worth little or nothing. As modern-day believers, we have sought mercy without discipline, love devoid of requirement, and benevolence which knows no corresponding demand.

And we wonder why nothing ever happens to us from within!

You cannot get to Easter without passing through Lent. I pray that, in the next 40 days, you will struggle with your sins just as our Lord struggled with the temptations of the devil in the wilderness.

Through self-examination, self-denial, prayer, fasting, and meditation, you will find yourself drawing closer to God, and, sure enough, God will draw closer to you.

The true message of Lent can be found in one of my favorite hymns. It asks a question all of us must one day answer: "Must Jesus bear the cross alone, and all the world go free?"

What's your answer? God will understand it in any language!

Thank you, annual conference

My gratitude is offered here to all of you who have supported my wife, Dee, and myself with prayer during her recent illness.

Dee is recovering well, with no lasting effects, after experiencing what doctors call a TIA, which mimics a stroke.

We both thank you so much for your prayers, calls, cards, and letters. Please continue to pray for us, as we pray for you.


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