I’ll never forget one particular high-school youth group that I attended, where the minister was preaching on why you shouldn’t have sex before marriage. To make his point, he took out a piece of gum and started chewing. After a few moments, he spat the chewed gum into one hand, held out the fresh piece in his other hand, and asked us “which piece would you rather have?”
The chewed piece of gum was meant to represent someone who had slept around; the fresh piece was someone who had saved sex for marriage.
There’s just one problem. You’re not a piece of gum.
The thing I hate about this analogy is that it implies that if you’ve gotten sexually intimate with someone before marriage, you’re somehow worth less. But that’s simply not true.
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is John 8:1-11. In this passage, a group of Jewish religious leaders want to kill a woman who was caught committing sexual sin. They take her to Jesus, and they ask him whether he thinks she should be stoned to death.
To the religious leaders, this girl is worthless. She’s the piece of chewed gum. As far as they’re concerned, the only thing this girl is good for is to prove a point about divine justice.
So, what does Jesus do? He calls out the religious leaders for treating this girl like she’s nothing. He reminds them that every single one of them has screwed up at some point. His reply is “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one, they drop their stones and leave.
When Jesus and the woman are alone, he turns to her and says “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin again.”
If you want to start over, God isn’t going to be up there thinking “Ha! You sinned! Off to Hell you go!” God is going to to be thinking the same thing that God was thinking thousands of years ago, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).
God doesn’t love us more when we are being good and less when we aren’t. God just loves us. Unconditionally and always.
Often, though, the biggest barrier to starting over can be forgiving ourselves. Because past mistakes can be the source of a lot of pain, we generally do one of two things. We play them over and over again, obsessing on all the things that we could have done differently, or we try to sweep the memories under a mental rug and forget about them completely.
Thinking about your mistakes to a certain extent is important, but only because you need to understand why it happened so that you don’t make the same mistake twice. Beyond that, don’t beat yourself up about the past. The most important day to Jesus is today.
Also, know that forgiveness isn’t a feeling. When you start over, you might not necessarily feel forgiven. The reality is that the pain of past mistakes will probably take a while to heal. But remember that the past is gone. God doesn’t condemn you for it, and you shouldn’t condemn yourself for it.
You might have to tell yourself that you’re forgiven 100 times the first day, and the second day, but on the third day it will be a little less, and each day after that. Until one day, you’ll be able to accept that you have been forgiven completely.
So, I think we need a new analogy. While every analogy is going to have its limitations, one I really like is the $100 bill. If I had a $100 bill, I could crumple it up, I could stomp on it, I could pass it round an auditorium filled with people, but at the end of the day, it wouldn’t be worth any less. It’s still going to be worth $100.
If you’ve gone through your fair share of mistakes and heartbreaks, don’t ever believe you’re worthless. And don’t ever believe you can’t start over.
Samuel Brebner is an under-graduate, studying theology and law at the University of Auckland. He lives in New Zealand, loves to surf, and hopes to challenge youth to be everything God created them to be. Samuel works part-time with Real Talk, a Catholic organization that speaks in high schools on the topics of sex, relationships and personal identity. For more of Sam’s writing, visit his blog https://parttimeprophet.net/.