HAGELIN: Redemption tales don’t always have happy endings

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Culture Challenge of the Week: Making Good With Your Second Chance

Among the hits at the box office on Christmas Day were two very different tales about life’s second chances — “Les Miserables” and “Django Unchained.”

“Django Unchained,” described by one critic as a “social rebuke” of slavery, takes significant “historical liberties” as it tells of a former slave’s new life, fueled by bloody vengeance. The movie climaxes with a “gratuitous and abhorrent bloodbath,” according to another critic, as the protagonist shows no mercy toward those he hates.

“Les Mis,” on the other hand, recounts the redemption of French peasant Jean Valjean. Released from prison after 19 years of unjust, brutal punishment, his new life is driven by hatred until he encounters unexpected love and mercy. His personal redemption compels a second chapter of life marked by growing compassion, poignant love and mercy toward his enemies. The movie’s final scene reveals the transcendent triumph of love over evil.

Most of us find ourselves drawn to stories of second chances, comebacks and personal victories against insurmountable odds. We admire the perseverance and determination it takes to conquer the demons of the past and fashion a new future.

But as the stories of Valjean and Django illustrate, not all second chances lead to better lives. We face choices that will shape our futures, and it’s up to us to make the decisions that will make the most of life’s second chances, whenever they appear.

The new year is one of life’s predictable opportunities for a second chance. The flip of the calendar symbolizes the milestones of the past year and the limitless potential of the unwritten future. The freshness of the new year creates optimism, energy and the sense of possibility.

The question for each one of us is, however, “What will I do with my second chance?”

How to Save Your Family: Make Resolutions Purposeful and Practical

The typical New Year’s resolution looks like a self-improvement wish list. It aims at an unattainable ideal of perfection, and lasts only as long as it takes to smack up against the formidable wall of reality.

So what can we do to make the most of 2013’s “second chance” opportunity?

First, be purposeful. Align your resolutions with your overall sense of purpose in life: You are on this earth to serve your creator, do good and help others along the way.

Create resolutions motivated by your overall purpose in life rather than by vanity, selfishness or pleasure. You still can lose weight or quit smoking — but ground your resolution in the awareness that, like Jean Valjean, you are made for something better. Ask for God’s strength to make the most of this “second chance.”

If you struggle with controlling your weight, consider a weight-loss program grounded in faith principles, rejecting food as the source of your comfort and security, and embracing your body as a gift from the loving God, a gift to be cherished, protected and loved.

If you struggle with pornography or sexual addiction, seek support from those who will help you fill that internal emptiness with the unfathomable depth of God’s love. (One good place to start is the PureHope outreach.)

Second, be practical. Make “bite-size” or miniresolutions that set you on the path to a larger goal. Short-term success not only builds momentum, it builds the daily habits that will sustain your good resolutions for a lifetime.

Especially if you struggle with temperamental weaknesses — the flip side of personal strengths — it’s important to identify concrete, measurable, daily actions that mark progress. For example, a person who selfishly tends to dominate conversations might resolve to begin every conversation with a sincere question about the other person, or to speak no longer than a minute before yielding the floor to the other person in the conversation.

Resolutions like these create awareness of others, work toward a larger purpose, and make the most of our second chances.

This week begins a new year — your second chance to do better, with more purpose and more joy.

The question is, what will you do to make the most of your second chance?

Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at rebecca@howtosaveyourfamily.com.

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