What does the phrase “a clean sheet of paper” mean to you? I am sure it conjures up many things to many people.
If you have been on a “Walk to Emmaus” weekend (or a similar event such as Chrysalis, Kairos, Cursillo, or others) the phrase reminds you that just before a new speaker is introduced, you are invited to take out “a clean sheet of paper” to begin taking notes on a new subject.
If you are in school (or remember your school days vividly), it may strike you with dread. Whenever a teacher would ask you to take out “a clean sheet of paper”, it meant a pop quiz was imminent.
If you are a writer, the phrase might also strike you with dread, for it could signify “writer’s block”. Of course, nowadays, it is a blank screen that most writers face rather than a sheet of paper. Deborah and I watched a DVD several years ago, about a young man who had written a literary masterpiece his first time out and was unable to duplicate it. He had been working on the follow-up, or failing to work on it, for ten years. His publisher and agent were growing tired of his excuses. But still, the words would not come.
But on the positive side, “a clean sheet of paper” represents potential. It represents a new start. It represents freedom from the past.
As we stand on threshold of a new year, we are symbolically faced with a new start. In front of us lies a whole year. Who knows what the year may bring. We may have an idea of what to expect, but we have no way of knowing for certain. The year is a clean sheet of paper. Whatever gets written on it or not written on it is up to us. What will we do with this gift? How will we use the days we have been given? If we knew we had only one year to live, how would we use that time? How would the coming year be different from the past year?
Of course, the new year is just a state of mind. When we make New Year’s resolutions, we are planning and dreaming and expecting to make an impact on our future and our world. But how is that any different on January 1 than January 11? Isn’t every day a New Year’s Day? Each day is full of opportunities to impact the world around us. Every day, we begin with “a clean sheet of paper” and the opportunity to write whatever we will upon it.
But there is another aspect to “a clean sheet of paper”. It also means the mistakes of the past are gone. The bad choices we made yesterday or last week or last month or last year are done. There is no undoing them. We need to leave them behind. We may have to live with the consequences of our poor choices, but what’s done is done.
The beauty of our God is that we can be forgiven for those sins and failings. God offers us “a clean sheet of paper” as God forgives, cleanses, and frees us from the past. Again, we may have to live with the consequences and scars for the rest of our lives, but the guilt and shame can be erased.
I like to do crossword puzzles and Sudoku. But I always do them in pencil and require many erasures. Sometimes the imprint of the pencil has left an outline even when the lead has been erased. But when God forgives, not even the imprint remains. It is not just an erased piece of paper. It is a brand new “clean sheet of paper.”
Today, we need to leave the past in the past. We need to let God cast it away into the depths of the sea of forgiveness, never to be seen or heard from again. Then any moment, not just January 1, can be “a clean sheet of paper.”