Recently, a friend shared a story with me about how she had publicly messed up, and exposed an area of weakness in her life. I had to laugh at the humorous way in which she related the story, but my heart ached with her as she went on to share how the guilt of that mistake has continued to hang over her life, and bring her shame.
I was reminded of one of my own more painful memories of public mistakes I’ve made…
It happened when we were living at camp, during the spring, when our “spring staff” came to work during the months of May and June – about a dozen college-age kids. It was always my favorite time of the year, because we were able to work closely with the spring staff, mentoring them and meeting for weekly Bible studies and worship times.
During one of those weekly meetings, we had an issue to discuss as a group, and needed to reach a decision together. I had previously spent a lot of time thinking about what the best outcome might be for this decision, but we needed to agree as a group. Everyone took turns sharing their thoughts, and there was quite a bit of disagreement about what should happen, which caused me to feel more and more frustrated.
My annoyance reached a climax when one of the spring staff members shared his opinion in what I felt (in the heat of the moment) was an inappropriate way, and I plowed into him. In front of the whole group, I shared exactly what I thought of his opinion and his way of expressing it, and I was most definitely not kind or tactful.
It took about two second for me to start feeling incredibly ashamed about what I’d just done, and by the time Ben and I went home from the meeting, I had beaten myself up for it, numerous times.
As Ben and I were talking together that evening, and getting ready to pray before going to bed, I began to cry and completely give in to all that guilt and shame that was hanging over me so heavily. I felt bad for potentially hurting the guy’s feelings, but my pride was really hurt, as well. I couldn’t believe how badly I’d messed up in front of all those people – I was the camp director’s wife, and wanted to play an important role in encouraging and mentoring the staff in their spiritual growth, but I had behaved in a very unspiritual manner.
Ben quietly listened to me go on for awhile, and then he said something I will never forget:
Your spiritual example will not be strong because you’re perfect and never make mistakes – it will show the strongest when you make mistakes, by how you respond and clean up after them.
I had to chew on that for a long time. I wanted to appear perfect, such an awesome example of a strong Christian that I would never mess up, but I began to see how unrealistic and prideful such a goal was.
How much better to have a soft heart, open to learning from Jesus, as well as from my mistakes, and to apologize for messing up and giving in to the sinful habits in my life.
I knew what I had to do – I needed to apologize as publicly as I had messed up, and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a Christian. To confess in a group like that is harder than covering up, and acting as though I never did anything wrong.
I continue to think of Ben’s words these days, especially as I parent. I mess up so often, and I have to apologize so often. I don’t know how that will affect my girls in the long run, but I’m hoping they will learn humility, vulnerability, and the ability to confess mistakes, rather than hide them, or pass the blame onto another person.
And so when my friend shared her story, I knew how she felt – and I knew how badly she needed the healing only God can bring. So I prayed for her, and asked God, “What do you want to say to her?” And I felt as though this great excitement, of all things, was growing up inside me, for her, because it felt as though God was saying, “Her light will shine brighter because of that mistake. People will see what it looks like to confess, and ask forgiveness, and maybe they haven’t seen that much before.”
I got the sense that He will be able to do more through her soft, humble heart, than He ever could through a performance of perfection.
When we put up a perfect front, it gives others the impression that there is a wide chasm that separates us from them. Why would anyone want something so seemingly unattainable and untouchable? It makes sense to me that Jesus filling in my gaps, bridging over my flaws, would be far more encouraging for others to see – more appealing and real.
Many times a day!:) And I keep hanging on to the promise that what Jesus has started, He will carry on to completion! I may have a long way to go, but we will get there yet!