He said, “You can’t change what you did, you can change why you did it!” I felt as stunned as Nicodemus asking if he could be born again now that he is an old man. My wise friend explained that he had done harm to others because he was selfish and greedy. He cannot return and undo the harm any more than you can un-ring a bell but he can act with kindness and generosity. In this manner he changes the ‘why’. As the conversation continue we agreed that by ourselves we cannot reverse these character defects. We are in constant need of help. The good news is that there is help! Our part is to be willing to have these shortcomings removed or better yet reversed.
Knowing the true nature of the ‘whys’ of my past makes me aware of the attributes and attitudes I want to cultivate today. I can begin each day with a conversation with the God who is able to help me that day. I affirm my willingness to be led. I ask specifically for help to demonstrate kindness and generosity today. Over time a wondrous thing begins to happen. Kindness and generosity slowly, bit by bit, begin to replace selfishness and greed. Though I could not change myself I am being changed through my co-operation with God.
Yesterday I had a visit with a young fellow who has spent over half his life in prison. He told me in tears of his crimes and the harm he had done. He was filled with shame and, I feel, a great remorse. He looked to me to relieve the pain of his shame. I shared with him that his shame, which was causing him so much pain, was probably the healthiest emotion he had experienced in some time. We spoke about forgiveness and about restorative practices, but we spoke most about changing the ‘why’. He will be back in our community next year and I look forward to the opportunity of working with this young man to change the ‘why’. This young guy has great potential to be kind and generous. He has an opportunity to be a positive example of a life no longer lived on self-will. I plan to be there and I know God is ever ready. The only contingency will be this fellow’s willingness upon his release.
In our continuing study of the Story of the Prodigal Son we have been thinking about this very thing. The son in the parable felt real regret but it wasn’t until he ‘got up’ and turned toward home that new things were possible. All of us feel regrets but too few make the determination that allows God to change us. This change in the story is marked by the verbs he uses. In the opening of the story the selfish son says “give me…” here as he arises to return home he says “make me…” He is willing to trust himself into the hands of his father. It is through this trust, this willingness, that now the Father can fold us in his embrace and begin to work in us, forming us into the people we were created to be. Through this surrender of will we find true freedom and change the “why’.