I love reading, particularly biographies. Every such book contains a lot of footnotes. They add some information that the author considers helpful in supporting whatever he is saying or whoever she is quoting. But I don’t read many of them; at best I glance at them. I believe I am far from alone in that practice. No one reads a book because of the footnotes, nor would there be many who would even remember any of them. Footnotes, as they are defined, provide ancillary information about the source of the information shared. But, as used in our common vernacular, footnotes refer to things significant, but not considered important in the grand scheme of things. Think “a mere footnote in history.”
In working with college students, it is common for them to get very worked up about a lot of things, just as we all do in our teens and twenties. Relationships, school, the future, and causes loom large in their lives. They are all-consuming. However, in a long life, many may retain their significance, but they will recede to the margins. They will become mere footnotes as life continues its inevitable march forward.
As a young man, I experienced many things that were extremely hard—the deaths of both of my parents within five years of one another, and a break-up with a woman I had planned to marry. They were devastating emotionally, but now, decades later, they are literally footnotes in my life. I often refer to their lessons, but there is no emotional power remaining in them, nor do I think about them continually. They happened and are an integral part of my life story, but no longer are they the main focus.
The same can be said about my sin. Like Paul, I believe I am the “worst of sinners” as I review my life. But, unlike Paul, those sins played a dominant role in my personal identity. I was full of regret and unforgiveness of myself. Paul, on the other hand, demonstrates how our past sins can become mere footnotes in our life story. To the Corinthian church he wrote: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (II Corinthians 7:10 NIV) He readily acknowledged his sinful past, but it did not define his present. He repented and the Lord’s grace took away his sin. They had become footnotes in his life story. He had no regrets.
Let me be clear, I do regret what sins I committed in the past, but I no longer anguish over them, or beat myself up. Rather, I bask in the God’s wonderful grace, knowing that he doesn’t count my sins against me (Psalm 32:1-2) My sins, like those of Paul, are now footnotes.
Too often we make what God desires to be footnotes in our lives the main essence of them. We wallow in our worldly sorrow and remain mired in regret. This plays right into the schemes of the Enemy who comes to “kill, steal, and destroy” and thwarts the plan of the Lord to give us “life to the full” (John 10:10). This regret and loathing keep us stuck, unable to allow the Lord to use our experiences to grow and mature us.
When Paul wrote about worldly sorrow and regret to the Corinthian believers, he was addressing their reaction to a rebuke he had given them in his first letter. Many of them felt bad, but they were unwilling to repent and move on. It is a very common human trait. We feel bad about things we do; we have regret but we struggle to move beyond feeling remorse. And we get stuck.
The way to get unstuck is to repent and embrace God’s grace. Then move on without regret, relegating the sin to a mere footnote in our lives, significant but without the power to be the central part of our life story.
© Jim Musser 2019