Here’s a spoiler alert: we all make mistakes.
That had to be said just in case someone thinks because they have cleaned up their life or because they’ve never had an affair or never abused alcohol or because they believe in God or because they go to church or because they have money or because they’ve never failed badly that they are just fine.
Maybe. But I would be cautious. Chances are they’re about to mess up sometime soon; because that’s just part of being a normal human being.
There is a character in Barbara Kingsolver’s terrific novel, The Poisonwood Bible, who laments: “I've swallowed my pride before, that's for sure. I'm practically lined with my mistakes on the inside like a bad-wallpapered bathroom.”
That has it about right for most of us.
A friend of mine recently went through a tough patch of self humiliation. The details are not necessary, just that he’d had a long day of good food and beer (mostly beer) and had over indulged. The situation was made more difficult because he was later brought by others into the company of friends, church friends, at another setting where some there focused on his addled behavior and forgot he was a friend of character and goodwill with a loving heart.
Yes, he said and did some things in front of his friends that evening that were offensive. No one knows that more than he does. And, like the character in Kingsolver’s novel, he’s had to swallow his pride over it and cover his insides with it. And that leaves one with an ugly, sticky feeling.
He shared the whole uncomfortable experience with me and I have hurt for him. He’s such a good guy. And why is it that so often our goodness is not considered, only our mistakes, our offenses, our deficiencies; that we are forever remembered for a moment of unintended bone headedness?
And here’s something else. Messing up includes a hugely wide range of behaviors. I may often use profanity but you may often yell at your children. I might at times wrestle with alcohol; you might sometimes wrestle with pornography. Both are bad for us. Wrong choices are in our DNA. We just sometimes do a foolish thing. The point is this: eventually, messing up gets all of us.
I’m not excusing alcohol abuse or dismissing being offensive to someone. It’s just that most of us, if we’re honest, have had that next morning feeling of regret, whatever it was the night before that prompted it. And no one in those times makes us feel more despicable than our own screaming voice inside us saying, “What were you thinking?!!”
Finally, bad behavior, moral mistakes, grievous conduct, whatever you want to call it, always has some underlying catalyst. Loneliness, boredom, heartache, old inner wounds, anger, disappointment—something is behind our times of misjudgment, weakness, or irresponsible actions. Trying to understand the cause and not just condemning the consequence is the healthier and more healing way to deal with these situations. Both with ourselves and with our friends.
But what we need most in these times, something almost too simple to say, is just elemental kindness.
© 2014 Timothy Moody