Time flies...except when you are sitting through a graduation ceremony, standing in the wrong line at the bank, or enduring an intermission in your life story. That interval between your past failure and your future success can seem endless. But waiting time is not wasted time. Intermissions are opportunities for refreshment, reflection, and sometimes redirection.
In a performance, however, everyone knows when the second act is about to begin: the lights go down, sometimes the orchestra begins an overture, and the curtain rises indicating that intermission is now over. Wouldn’t you love for God to give you an unmistakable signal when your second act was about to begin? Waiting would be a lot easier if you knew when you had find a new job, enter a new relationship, see your balance sheet turn from red to black, or stop paying for a lapse of judgment. Nevertheless, intermissions are not interminable. Intermissions do eventually end, signaling that the curtain is about to rise again.
Now we are going to discover five important principles for discerning when our intermission is over and how we can prepare for a successful second act in life. I am going to talk only two things, because my time is limited.
Say good-bye to regrets
It is a crucial principle for a new beginning. You can never start your second act if you are still reliving the failures of your first act. Remember the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray? Every morning Murray would awaken to the radio playing “I’ve Got You, Babe” and find himself reliving the same day. In the movie, it was hilarious. In life, reliving your experiences can be tragic. The writer of Hebrews had this truth in mind, “Lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1).
A runner can never expect to win a race while looking back at ground he has already covered. He can’t simultaneously relieve a past stumble and concentrate on the future challenge. He’s either focused on what’s behind him or what’s in front of him. I realize that letting go of regrets is easier said than done. If you find it difficult to focus on future possibilities rather than on past failures, three realities can help you release your regrets over your mistakes.
First is the impossibility of undoing your mistake. Only in movies do people get the chance to travel back in time and make different choices. However, every day we can choose to engage in mental time travel and relive the pain of past mistakes. That’s trip you can’t afford to take.
Next is the reality of God’s forgiveness. When you accept God’s offer of forgiveness, He takes your failures, nails them to the cross of Jesus Christ, and declares them paid in full. There’s nothing you can add to the payment He has already made for you. Since God remembers our iniquities no more and casts our sins into the depths of the sea, why should we insist on dredging them back up?
Third is the possibility of future change. You’ve probably heard of the Nobel Prize, which awards excellence in the fields of literature, physics, peace, and economics. But you may not be aware of the history of those awards. Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist who made his fortune by inventing explosives and licensing their manufacture to foreign governments for the production of weapons. When Nobel’s brother died, the newspaper accidentally ran Alfred’s obituary instead of his brother’s. Alfred Nobel had the unique opportunity to read how others would remember him: the man who invented dynamite and enabled countries to more effectively destroy one another.
Regretting that he’d only be remembered as a merchant of death. Nobel decided to rechannel the remainder of his life to more productive efforts. Using a sizable amount of his new worth, he established the Nobel Prizes to encourage achievements that would benefit humanity. Today few people know that Alfred Nobel invented dynamite. Instead, they remember him as someone who had a positive influence on the world. Although we can’t remake past choices or regain lost time and opportunities, we can reshape our tomorrows as well as our eternity. That’s what second acts are all about.
Pay attention to seasonal changes
One practical benefit of letting go of regrets over the past is that it frees you to be more attuned to the present. People who constantly relive their mistakes are oblivious to changes around them that may signal the beginning of their second act. Remember the movie Mary Poppins? Near the beginning of the film, a weather vane makes a 180 degree turn, and the chimney sweep, Bert, recognizes that something is in the air. That something is the arrival of the magical, musical nanny Mary Poppins. By the end of the movie, when the weather vane turns again, it’s time for Mary Poppins to leave. All-knowing weather vanes would make life a lot easier. If only we knew ahead of time when a major change was coming, we could prepare for it. Obviously, no instrument exists that can predict life changes. But that doesn’t mean we are simply reduced to going with the flow.
God wants you to be able to discern changes in your circumstances that portend a major turning point in your life so you can be prepared to take advantage of that change. The Bible continually extols the value of wisdom, the skill to live according to God’s plan. One by-product of wisdom is the ability to discern major turning points in our lives. For example, in the Old Testament, the sons of Issachar are described as “men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do” (1Chro 12:32). Just as a savvy politician knows when the conditions are right to enter a race and challenge an incumbent, these men were able to discern that conditions were optimal for a major political upheaval in Israel. Sensing that the time was ripe for David to expand his kingdom to include all of Israel, these men decided to cast their lot with him. Their hunch turned out to be correct.
What does all this have to do with second acts in life? We need to be able to discern when our intermission is over and it’s time to begin our second act. Prolonging an intermission can be as destructive as skipping an intermission. How can you know when it’s time to begin your second act? Look for changes in...
Have you quit blaming others for your failure and accepted responsibility for your mistakes? Can you articulate the lessons you have learned from your failure?
Do you still feel emotionally and physically drained from the aftermath of your failure, or are you starting to feel
refreshed from your intermission? When other people refer to your mistakes, are you defensive, or can you discuss them objectively?
A job offer that comes out of nowhere, a dinner invitation from someone you are interested in, or a child’s leaving home may signal that you are about to enter a new era in your life. Even a seemingly negative circumstance can actually be the prelude to a positive second fact, as it was for the OT character Jacob.
You may recall that Jacob had worked for his uncle Laban for twenty years. Although their relationship had been volatile, Jacob eventually became content with his life and imagined he would spend the remainder of his days tending sheep, far removed from the Promised Land of Canaan, where he had once lived. But God had a different plan. Act 2 of Jacob’s story involved returning to the Promised Land, reconciling with his estranged brother, Esau, and renewing his commitment to God. How did Jacob discern it was time to leave Laban and return home? Jacob saw the attitude of Laban, and “behold, it was not friendly toward him as formerly” (Gen 31:2). Instead of becoming bitter over his uncle’s unexpected and sudden hostility toward him, Jacob discerned that God was using that change in attitude to move him and his family back to their home so they could experience a new beginning. Can you sense that an important weather vane is turning? Are winds of change blowing in your life right now? If so, it may be time for your second act to continue.