The Penalty Box and Redemption

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Several recent events got me thinking about being put into the Penalty Box in life for things which we do or which have occurred, as well as getting out of that Penalty Box once we’re there.

Our oldest, Jordan, a rising sophomore at Boston College, is on a mission to see as many of the old classic movies as he can this summer before he goes back to school, or at least the one-off’s, since he’s already seen the biggies.

The other night brought us Love Story, the 1970 tear-jerker starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw. It was everything Jordan was hoping it would be, including the story line itself as well as the iconic “love is never having to say you’re sorry” takeaway which has gone down in the American lexicon.

In one of the scenes, the Ryan O’Neal character, a lettered Harvard hockey jock, gets into a fist fight on the ice with one of the Cornell players in the “All-Ivy Match” and ends up in the Penalty Box.

A few minutes later, he gets released, and gets back into the game.

We have also had our share of “Penalty Box” situations, as we are glued to our sets, tablets and smart phones watching World Cup 2014.

In the game between Portugal and Germany, for instance, we had the opportunity to have Pepe red carded, which meant, in soccer-speak, he was thrown out of the game. That was a permanent, one game Penalty Box, you might say.

And, with the bite seen around the world, we all had the opportunity to experience talented Luis Suarez of Uruguay, not only being thrown out of the balance of the games for the World Cup, but actually hitting the Penalty Box for a total of nine (9) games.

A few minutes for the Ryan O’Neal character, one game for Pepe, and nine games for Luis Suarez.

The Penalty Box is alive and well in sports.

However, as I think through the process of being thrown into the Penalty Box in real life – where the stakes can often times be much stiffer – it doesn’t appear that the same rules apply.

When we’ve done something to either merit or, in any event, create a Penalty Box situation, the repercussions can tend to be far more significant than a few minutes, a game, or a handful of games.

An indiscriminate affair can lead into the Penalty Box of divorce. A bad business deal or economic downturn can lead us into the Penalty Box of the loss of our home, investments, income, or businesses. Insensitive, callous or irresponsible behavior towards others, or friends, family, or spouse, can lead to the Penalty Box of insufferable hurt or even total loss of those relationships for the rest of our lives, sometimes with incredible regret. And all of that, as bad as it might be in its own right, is often coupled with severe reputational damage to boot!

And that’s not the only way it’s different.

Unlike sports, getting out of that Penalty Box doesn’t occur through the mere passage of time.

Yes, while it’s true that time does tend to heal – with more time, more healing – sometimes it’s the opposite. Injury often calcifies over time, making it ever that much more difficult to right the circumstances.  

Time, by itself, isn’t often enough.

The Penalty Box that life serves up tends to require more than just the mere passage of time. It requires active engagement and “conduct towards.”

And ironically, that “conduct towards” . . . righting the circumstances, or eliminating the wrongs, or dealing with the transgressions, or leaning into the karmic pendulum, are that much more difficult because they are done when we are still in the Penalty Box.

Think about it?  We are in the Penalty Box when we are trying to fix the problem.

So, we are two-fold handicapped in life’s “Penalty Box” conundrum:  first, time alone doesn’t cut it and often makes it worse; and second, we’re handicapped as we try to break free.

But it got me thinking.

Redemption would not be necessary for us as human beings if we were not otherwise in the Penalty Box when we sought it.

Indeed, some might say that we’ve been in the Penalty Box since the beginning of our time.  Genesis explains that one and we’ve been trying to get out of it — at least existentially — ever since.

Of course, we would all just as soon stay out of the Penalty Box if we could.

But, for human beings, that’s just simply not possible.

So, the good news is that there is good news.

Redemption, as human beings, is possible, but it does have preconditions.  

It requires, at the very least, the following four preconditions, if not more:  (1) good intentions, (2) right conduct, (3) the patient marshaling of time, and as importantly, (4) belief in the uncompromising and often times unfathomable grace of God.

There may be more, but that appears to be a good enough start.

We may not always earn redemption when we’re in the Penalty Box.  

We may not always — or ever — earn redemption at all.

But, if we don’t, there’s a good solid chance that one or more of those preconditions was missing in our efforts.

If not:  take a deep breath — breath through the nose — and start over!