On the morning of our wedding, my husband, Tim, wrapped a special gift for each of my two children and delivered them with handwritten cards. He chose a leather-banded watch for the older and a pair of birthstone amethyst earrings for my nine-year-old daughter, Carter. The kids were delighted by these small reminders of new family bonds.
While we honeymooned overseas, the kids enjoyed time with family at a house on the coast. Carter wore her earrings day and night. Somewhere between the pool, the house, and the beach, one of the earrings slipped out. The house was searched high and low. My sister deep-dove in the pool. But the earring was gone.
Soon after our trip, Carter confided in me about what had happened. I could tell that her dread of disappointing Tim was weightier than the loss of the earring itself. I encouraged her to take her time. “Tell him when you’re ready.” Privately, I let Tim know what had happened, we put it aside, and we waited to see what would take shape.
A few days later, Carter slipped into the room and nervously told Tim the story. I was not expecting what happened next. The moment she apologized and explained, Tim responded warmly, pulled a tiny package out of his pocket, and pressed it into her hand.
She unwrapped the satchel and found two gleaming purple amethysts, a second pair of birthstone earrings even larger than the first. He had given a double gift, prepared for her before she had even summoned the courage to talk to him about it. It was a lavish surprise.
This second gift was far more meaningful than the first because of what it signaled. The exchange reminded me of how God is committed to our formation. He keeps giving and forgiving. He has placed us in families and with one another (Ps. 68:6) and is committed to impressing upon us his abundant grace.
In these days of “cancel culture,” second chances seem scarce. We’re more likely to lob a condescending remark over the fence into someone’s social media space than to have a difficult conversation in person. Public figures and beloved leaders are toppled from high places. Reputations are irreversibly shattered in minutes.
But the gospel makes a way for us to be compassionate listeners and givers of second chances. It’s hard work to subdue our pride and fear. While we have reasonable reasons to divide, we have more reasons to come humbly together. We aim our judgment toward someone else’s dark heart even as we hope no one notices the same shadows within us.
We are all more like the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21–35 than we want to admit: receiving news of a canceled debt but quickly turning to withhold that same kind of mercy from others. It may be one of the reasons we have such a hard time getting along.
Whether on social media or in person, the wisdom of Matthew 7:3–5 still implores us, “First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” We tend to most despise the dirt we see on others when it reminds us of our own.
It is easier to cancel than to stay in the hard work of discipleship. Naturally, there are consequences to our choices. But correction can bring more redemptive change than cancellation. The gospel does not play by the rules of corporate culture. By God’s Spirit, we are a new creation, living in a new kingdom. By grace, both people and systems can change. But it’s not without effort. Consequences are not an end in themselves but a means for rightly shaping the action of our lives so our hearts can stay responsive to redemptive change.
In John 17:21, Jesus prayed for us to be one as he and his Father are one. Jesus’ wide, prayerful promise extends to us still. God has not discarded us, though we have come up short. He is rich in mercy (Eph. 2:4) and is campaigning for the good in us and in our world. The kingdom of God breaks in by the surprise of forgiveness and by the healing power of Jesus’ blood—the “double cure.”
God has canceled our sin instead of canceling us (Rom. 5:8), and he commissions us to do the same. Where we find grace, we find second chances. In spite of all the evidence, we move from division toward unity by the double gifts of grace.
Sandra McCracken is a singer-songwriter who lives in Nashville. Follow her on Twitter @Sandramccracken.
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