Somewhere between Connecticut and South Carolina, there came an abrupt tug at my left wheel and smoke began pouring out the back. Inside the cab of my Jeep sat my wife and 2 dogs, who I’m certain were already fed up with the numerous pit stops and bathroom breaks on this 16-hour journey. I’ve done some long drives in the past, but once everything starts breaking is when you know you’re in for a rough ride.
We were able to figure out a temporary solution and luckily didn’t end up stranded on the side of the highway. But even with a temporary solution I knew that I had a huge problem on my hands. So I got together with my father-in-law and ended up replacing brake pads, the rotor, and cleaning up a brake fluid leak.
While we were working I happened to look down at my hands and noticed how dirty they had become. Full of muck, grease, and filth from the brake pads wearing down to the teeth. I saw how filthy I had become just by working on the Jeep for an hour or two.
Staring at the grime I began to dwell on some of the things I’ve been ashamed of in my life. Some of the things I used to regret or wish I hadn’t done. And just how dirty I felt, how covered in black filth, and how grimy and gunked I had made portions of my life. My heart was suddenly in a place that it hadn’t been in a long time and thinking on those past issues, and even some of my present mistakes, I realized just how dirty they can make me feel.
But then I focused my eyes on the words hiding behind all the blackness on my hands. Past all the grit and grease I read the words that are tattooed on my knuckles: “Your Life, Forgiven”.
That’s when I realized that I was forgiven for all the dirt, all those mistakes I had made and realized that I’m not in that place any longer. I don’t have to carry that shame or guilt with me. I don’t have to feel “dirty.” I don’t have to feel ashamed, because I was and am forgiven. Because God made a choice to forgive me of those things. But there’s more to it than just that. I too made the choice to forgive myself from the things I’d done in the past. I made the choice to face myself in the mirror. Square up to what I’ve done and seek forgiveness within my own heart.
It’s a humbling experience to face the things you’ve done in life. It teaches you a lot about how imperfect you are. How immature, irrational, lost, confused, self-righteous, “holier than thou” we can be. Knowing that God has washed my hands, as I literally went to the sink to wash mine, I thought of how thankful I am for this gift. The gift of being forgiven lifts even the heaviest weight in life off your shoulders. It frees your soul and lifts you up off your knees. You are no longer being dragged through the mud by shame, but instead walking upright in freedom.
And my hands, once full of dirt and grease, are now as they should be, without stain or blemish.
We need to start letting God clean us up and wash our hands, but the only way we can do this is by accepting His forgiveness. But there’s a beautiful partnership he wants us to enter into where we accept forgiveness from ourselves as well.
The bible speaks a lot about loving your neighbor, loving others, and loving God. That’s a lot of love if you ask me, especially knowing that love is a choice. And the best part is we can choose to love even if we don’t feel like it. Even when we feel someone or even ourselves deserve hatred, shame, and judgment, we can still choose to love. The more we start forgiving ourselves, the more our eyes are unveiled to how much others need that very same forgiveness.
Imagine a world where you don’t forgive yourself or others (maybe this happens to be the current world you live in). Every day you hold grudges against your body or thoughts, while you live your present life manipulated by past memories of pain and resentment. As these character defects begin to stream roll it causes you to tear others down because left unchecked, left without forgiveness, they only grow stronger and less manageable. Unable to choose love because your hatred controls you, it will always manipulate your joy into fear, your future into past, and your present into empty-sighted and blinded by pain. Is this not the definition of hell itself?
Your hands may be dirty, but we have the choice to forgive and to be forgiven if we seek it. My hands need constant washing. I chose these words to be tattooed on me because of the forgiveness God has given me. For the way He has so much grace and mercy on me. That He continuously forgives and redeems me and washes me clean. But this isn’t just about Him forgiving me. You see, I’m called to walk beside Him. I’m called to mimic His grace and love. So it’s a constant reminder that if God forgives me with such grace that I need to do this as well to others. By living out this way of life you can change the way you see the world. You can change the way you see yourself. And you can be used to change others.
We cannot love if we do not love ourselves. We cannot forgive if we do not forgive ourselves. We cannot show grace to others if we can’t recognize the need for grace in our own life. And how will we bring hope and healing to others, if we constantly look at ourselves and say, “My hands are just too dirty.”