This past Thursday, I made a mistake. A professional mistake. A big one. Luckily, the outcome was not detrimental, but the effect on me was huge. I don’t know about you, but when I make a mistake, I punish myself harder than anyone else would think of. Even worse for me, making a mistake allows The Judge in to take over and beat me down and there’s nothing I can do to stop him. Once he’s in, he not only uses my mistake as a weapon, he latches to every other insecurity I have to attack me. And then a downward spiral of self-doubt and self-loathing begins. And then even strengths about myself, qualities that I am usually confident in, also become vulnerable. Nothing is safe when I’ve made a mistake and the Judge comes walking in.
However, within 24 hours of this mistake, it had actually become a source of grace and understanding for myself, and for the people I encounter. In reflection, the steps I took to reach that point were significant.
Step 1: Denial I replayed the incident and altered the events slightly so I wasn’t culpable. I found every reason to blame the other person I could. I began each thought with, “Well if she hadn’t done…then this wouldn’t have happened,” which might be true, but it doesn’t take away the fact that I made the mistake. Although my desire was to have these thoughts of denial soothe me, it provided no relief.
Step 2: Blame Then I blamed the factors that had an impact on my poor decision-making. I was tired. I was impatient. I had been running ragged all week and I was at the end of my rope. Once again, although those factors were true, they didn’t offer comfort.
Step 3: Owning It This is a tough one. This is the one that requires me to block the denial, resist the temptation to blame other factors, and acknowledge the truth. I messed up. I knew better but I didn’t do better. I had to replay the whole event as it actually happened and expose the mistake. I had to look the mistake in the eye and tell it that it might be real, and it might be awful, but I will not let it take over me. I work too hard to prevent the negative thoughts that could reign in my brain to regain control. Not this day. You may take away my evening’s peace of mind but you’ll never take my freedom!
Step 4: Claiming It This one is even tougher. I couldn’t stop at owning it. I had to claim it. I had to report my mistake and ask for absolution without backsliding into denial and blame. Finally, I had to ask for forgiveness and wait for the verdict.
Step 5: Grace This is the hardest of all. This requires me to go beyond the act of asking for forgiveness from others. This step requires me to give myself the gift of grace. Grace is looking beyond the mistake, beyond the transgression, beyond the misdeed. Grace looks at the individual and sees the human and pours forth mercy and love. Grace is looking at the person, rather than the mistake, and genuinely and completely forgiving.
The gift of grace is one that allows me to forgive myself, even though I feel I don’t deserve it at the time. I am quick to forgive others. I am slow to forgive myself. I set an unusually high standard that I wouldn’t require anyone else to be held to, and yet when I fall short, it’s unacceptable. Fortunately, when I asked for forgiveness, my wise Witness provided me the tools to forgive myself. To let bygones be bygones. To reflect and revise myself so that I avoid the same mistake again. To heal my hurt ego and wounded professional soul. Grace given is as powerful as grace received.
This gift of grace that I allowed myself to accept was given Friday morning. Later in the day, I had the opportunity to help a few others accept their own gifts of grace. One, in particular, was when I was called to help with a student. He had pinched another student and was in a downward spiral of despair. He was almost inconsolable. As I talked with him, I could see him going through all the steps. “I didn’t mean to pinch him. He was laughing at me. I don’t want to get in trouble. Please don’t tell my mom…” Poor boy. I knew what he was going through. So instead of going through the typical “We Have to Be Safe at School” speech, I went another route. I told him how I made a mistake the day before and I knew how hard it was to be disappointed in yourself. We went through his excuses and arguments and I helped him realize that relying on them didn’t change his poor choice. The only thing to do was to admit it, ask for forgiveness, and then forgive himself. For this boy, the term “grace” was too abstract, so I helped him with these words, “I can make a mistake, and still have a good day.” After repeating that a few times, he dried his tears, went back to class, apologized and carried on with his day.
Grace my friends. Grace is the step that allows us to be at peace with ourselves, even when we are not at our best. Grace transforms a mistake into an actualization. Grace shoves the Judge out the door because when you forgive yourself, the Judge is disarmed. Grace allows you to become a Witness for yourself. And that’s the most powerful Witness there is.