Golfers call it a “mulligan.”
Gamers refer to it as a “respawn.”
Kids playing in the backyard call it a “do-over.”
Parents, and this is my favorite, call it an “opportunity to learn.”
For now, let’s just call it a “second chance.” The concept is simple. Given the same circumstances, what would you do differently to obtain a better outcome? The first part of that statement, “given the same circumstances,” is fundamentally important for a real second chance. If we change the circumstances, we are fundamentally changing the game. Reshaping the rules does not create an opportunity for a “second chance.” If we expand the size of the cup on the golf course to be two feet in diameter, I bet we could sink the long putt we just missed. But, that does not mean that we are suddenly a better golfer or that our putting form is any better.
A true second chance comes when we are faced with the same circumstances and decide to change our actions to achieve a different outcome. Instead of turning the cup on the 14th green into a manhole, we change our swing. Instead of changing the rules, we change. As our parents suggested, we seize the “opportunity to learn.”
One of the most profound lessons about second chances is found in the story of Joseph, the famed Prince of Egypt. If you are not familiar with Joseph, you can find his story in Genesis 37-50. This story is the longest in Genesis and is filled with numerous, valuable life-lessons. To help us focus on “second chances,” here’s a brief rundown of the relevant high-points of the story as they connect with our theme.
Joseph’s father, Jacob, had twelve sons from two wives and two concubines.
Joseph is the favorite son of his father’s favorite wife, Rachel. (In case you are wondering, playing favorites in a family can pose significant problems along the way. In our family, to ensure that there is no mistake about who is the favorite among our three grown kids, we have a leaderboard of sorts. We have three huge pictures of each child that hangs in the entryway to our home. Each Sunday evening during dinner, we rank the photos according to who is our favorite each week. But, leave it to Luke, our youngest, to rearrange the photos after his older siblings leave.)
Instead of using photos in the hallway to identify his favorite, Jacob made Joseph an expensive, ornamental robe. He also allowed Joseph to work from home, instead of shepherding the family flocks in the hot sun. In short, this did not make Joseph popular with his brothers.
Still in his teens, Joseph not only flaunted his cool new threads, he also started spying on his brothers and reported their bad behavior to his father. Since “snitches get stitches,” Joseph’s relationship with his brothers continued to decline.
Eventually, as a result of his father’s favoritism and some bad decisions by Joseph, his brothers hated him so much that they decided to get rid of him. Their first option was to kill him. Instead, they threw him into a pit and left him there to starve. (Like that was any better…)
While they are eating lunch to refuel after throwing their brother into a pit, a caravan passed by. One of the brothers, Judah, decided that it might be better to sell Joseph for a little silver. At least they can make some money off Dad’s favorite kid…
Joseph is taken by the caravan to Egypt while his brothers told their father that Joseph was killed by a wild animal and there was nothing they could have done.
After a series of significant ups and down (to put it mildly), Joseph became second-in-command of Egypt.
Joseph lead Egypt through seven years of drought and famine. During the famine, the entire world sought food in Egypt. As the famine expanded, Joseph’s father sent his remaining sons to Egypt to buy food. Well, most of them. He kept Benjamin, his new favorite son, the only remaining son of his favorite wife, the brother of his deceased, favorite son Joseph, safely at home.
When Joseph’s brothers arrived in Egypt to buy food, they did not recognize Joseph. After all, he had spent thirteen years in Egypt and he looks (and walks) like an Egyptian.
When his brothers arrive in Egypt to buy food, Joseph can seize this opportunity to settle the score for his brothers’ cruelty. Or, he can overlook the past the injustices and offer them forgiveness. In the story, we get neither. Instead, Joseph decides to hide his identity from his brothers. He then leverages his powerful position to design an elaborate plan which will eventually force his brothers to bring Benjamin from his father’s home in Canaan to Egypt. Along the way, the brothers face jail time, long journeys across the wilderness, false accusations, and guilt over their past actions with Joseph. As you read the entire story in Genesis, the process looks a bit like revenge. But, revenge is not on Joseph’s radar. Instead, this extensive, time-consuming plan is heartbreaking and incredibly painful for Joseph.
As Joseph’s ruse reaches its climax, the brothers are finally able to convince their father to allow them to take Benjamin with them to Egypt. When they arrive, Joseph arranges a dinner for the brothers. During this stately event, Joseph singles out Benjamin, bestowing on him five times more food than anyone else. As Jacob had played favorites with Joseph so many years ago, Joseph uses this dinner to honor Benjamin over his brothers. And, the brothers notice.
After dinner, Joseph sends everyone home. Along the way, they find a very special, royal chalice that belonged to Joseph in Benjamin’s possession! The brothers had to be asking themselves, “Did Benjamin really just steal something that belonged to the second-in-command of Egypt?” A chill runs down their collective spines…
This was all part of Joseph’s master plan. Joseph had planted the stolen goods in Benjamin’s sack as the final straw. The final act that would “pit” Benjamin against his brothers.
Shortly after the brothers left town, Joseph sent the Egyptian authorities to haul Benjamin and his brothers back to face Joseph. The circle is now complete. Joseph has successfully recreated the circumstances that drove him from his home and his family.
The same circumstances that led him into slavery.
The same circumstances that revealed the hatred of his brothers.
The same circumstances that changed his life forever.
Once again, in this moment, Joseph’s brothers had an opportunity to take a favorite, privileged son of their father and abandon him to a life of slavery in Egypt. Joseph made it easy for them. All they had to do is take a step back and point to Benjamin and say, “He did it…,” and then go back home to tell their Dad that there was nothing they could do. Joseph wanted to see if his brothers, given the same circumstances, would do to Benjamin what they did to him. Despite the pain that it caused him, Joseph offered his brothers a real, second chance.
In that critical moment, Judah, the brother who suggested that Joseph be sold to a passing caravan so many years ago, stepped in front of Benjamin, pointed to himself and said, “Take me instead.” Judah, the one who enslaved Joseph, offers to be enslaved by Joseph, for the sake of his brother.
When it comes to second chances, sometimes we play the role of Joseph. Offering someone a second chance means that we will have to face the same circumstances which caused us to be wronged. To give someone a second chance, means that we risk being hurt all over again. Throughout this story, we see Joseph weeping. Creating this scenario for his brothers doubtlessly brought back traumatic memories. But, to create the opportunity for a second chance for his brothers, revisiting the pain of the past was required.
It is often tempting to alter the circumstances a bit when it comes to second chances. We want to give our friends and family a better opportunity to succeed because we care about them. So, we change the rules a little in their favor. We make the holes on the green bigger, and the fairways shorter. But changing the circumstances does not create an opportunity for a true second chance. Instead, we shortcut the process and deny a victory that only a true second chance can produce.
Other times, we find ourselves in the role of Judah. Interestingly, the temptation to change the circumstances is the same. Instead of facing the second chance head-on, we might look for ways to tweak the conditions to guarantee our success. Yet, facing a true second chance means that we possess the fortitude to admit that we have taken the wrong path, failed to give our best effort or for whatever reason, simply did not succeed the first time around. Approaching a second chance with thankfulness, instead of excuses, requires true inner strength.
Facing a second chance gives us the opportunity to become a victor. And, offering a second chance allows us to be part of that victory.