I have been writing and thinking a lot about making mistakes recently, probably because at 21 it's inevitable to confront what it means to be 'grown-up'--both to yourself, and to others.
There are times it feels that growing up is basically moving on from small silly mistakes that others punish you for, to big bad mistakes you punish yourself for. When you were little you were not scared of making mistakes--because everyone expected you to make mistakes, including yourself--so much as scared of being punished for it. You broke someone's toy when you were playing with it, so you stealthily hide it under the sofa when no one's looking, hoping they'll only find it after you've gone home.
Now that you are a Big Responsible Adult Who Gets Things Done Properly, however, you try so hard not to make any mistakes, not to slip up. You're not afraid of them finding the broken toy under the sofa, so much as you're afraid of having broken it in the first place.
I wrote before on worldly guilt and godly guilt, but I'm still struggling to come to terms with the role each plays in my life--always far too much of the first, far too little of the second. However, today I want to write on another aspect of mistakes, from a Christian's perspective, something I ought to have known long ago, but which somehow only came home to me recently through the process of, yes, making mistakes.
My violin strings snapped suddenly the other day, and I had to make a trip down to a very out-of-the-way-shop to get the replacements I wanted. It was such a long trip that I put it off for a while, until I realized my holidays were almost coming to an end, and I had better get it done. So I traveled all the way there, got lost as I expected I would, finally found the shop (hooray!) and came up to the big glass doors like a desert traveler approaching the oasis.
Only to see the small sign hanging from the locked doors: closed on Mondays.
I felt aghast, and then dumb.
I felt more than dumb, I felt incredibly stupid not to have thought of checking the website on their opening times and days. After traveling all the way here, spending all that time--??
What a mess.
There was a little lady inside the shop, peacefully sorting through some papers behind the locked glass doors. I thought of knocking on the door and asking her if I could come in, and then I thought of how obviously undeserving I was--I had no reason at all that she should accommodate me, the wrong was all on my side. No reason at all.
Full of wretchedness and self-reproach, I was about to slink away in utter disgrace; but she came over--maybe she heard me banging my head on the door. 'We're closed on Mondays, that's true. The cash register isn't working, so you can only pay by cash and I'm afraid I can't give you a receipt--but I can still sell you the strings if you want...'
I left feeling so thankful. So humbled and so happy.
That's grace for you.
It was still a stupid thing for me to have done (or rather, not to have done) but if I had done my research properly, bought what I needed with the typical sense of entitlement we unconsciously don when we walk in, plunk our money down and hold out our hand--I wouldn't have experienced that grateful, joyous humbling of undeserved grace; a reminder of when I first believed.
Mistakes can be opportunities for us to experience grace.
Granted, we're not often shown grace when we make mistakes. When we're careless. When we don't think about the consequences of our actions, how it affects others. We don't deserve to be shown grace, and that's the whole point--that's why grace, when it's extended to us, is so amazing.
Our mistakes humble us, because they show us the full depths of our imperfection and inadequacy, a painful tear-apart sort of humbling.
However grace humbles us in a empowering, wonderfully uplifting way, a humbling that at once impresses us with our unworthiness and the subsequent greatness of the grace shown to us; an experience that leaves us chastened and humbled, yes, but also full of gratitude and joy, and love.
A humbling that gives hope--not in ourselves, but in One who gives grace, greater than our wrongs, greater than our mistakes.
There's a long cue! --That cashier is so slow, I could do a better job than her.
Someone let you down!--He's always like that. I'm just sick and tired of putting up with him.
Someone's keeping you waiting!--Don't they know I don't have all day to wait for them?
There is a joke--well, it's not really a joke, more like a complaint disguised as a joke--that Singaporeans are the world's best complainers, and though I haven't traveled that much, I would say we definitely are qualified for the finals.
As is just about anyone.
We all know we shouldn't complain. We all (probably) know that as Christians, complaining reveals a lack of trust and contentment in God providing that really slow cashier, and that driver who seems to have anything else but a functioning brain--possibly a potato--on his shoulders.
We may not, however, as easily realize that complaining also reveals the innate pride within us. Our complains stem from a sense of entitlement, which in turn stems from our sinful ego, as the DiMarcos point out: 'Complaint simply elevates the one who complains, making that person the assayer of all goodness and the authority on all badness...Just remember that complaint is our crying out for heaven on earth combined with the assumption that we deserve it.' (Die Young, by Michael and Hayley DiMarco)
If that sounded shocking, there are unfortunately also other nasty things lurking in our motivations to complain, like laziness and cowardice, and even--wait for it--dishonesty. Instead of actively and honestly confronting the problem (usually a person), and accepting the risks and costs that come with trying to change anything, we resort to a sort of hypocrisy, finding a comfortably safe outlet for our outraged feelings by complaining to someone else. What we don't realize is that this safe outlet is also a useless outlet. It doesn't fix anything. The only thing it does is make us feel good in a sort of sick self-righteous way (when, if you think about it, we didn't do anything awesome--other than make someone look bad for giving us less than we think we deserve, of course.)
Oh and wait--it does do something, not to the problem, not to the person we're complaining about, but to the person quietly listening to our rant.
Complaining is not limited to the complainer alone. We think that our complaints bubble out of us like hot air, venting our frustrations, and then conveniently evaporate leaving no trace. Unfortunately, complaining, like toxic gas, stings the lungs of those breathing it in. If only we stopped to think about the people listening to us before we let loose a complaint. ('You know, I don't want to complain but--') Complaining has an inevitable ripple effect, starting with your listener. It breeds more of all the nasty things that started it. When someone complains to you, they are immediately giving you the choice to join in, inviting you to join in, in fact. We all know complaining isn't half so fun without company. So we are basically inciting discontent in other people, whether it already exists or not. We're not content with our own discontent, ironically--we have to go and make sure other people are equally unhappy about something, and if they're not, convince them to be so. This could possibly sound okay if we were going to then do something about it together, but oh no, that's too risky. We'll just stay in the corner and complain furtively to each other, and get someone else to join us...
If this sounds less than how a heart that has experienced grace should be responding to other people's need for grace--that's about right. If it sounds like a lousy way of resolving a problem, that's quite right too.
I took a good hard look at myself and saw to my disgust that despite my unusually blessed life, this is me. This arose, I found, largely from an unconscious assumption that when someone complains, as long as what they're complaining about has some grounds, I feel justified to join in too.
But really? I never stopped to examine how legit that assumption/reason actually is.
The next hardest thing after not being a complainer myself, is knowing how to respond when other people complain to me.
Do I just listen silently, if I agree? Do I defend the person or thing being complained about? Do I try to appease the complainer, or make excuses for the problem? It affects me, whether I actually open my mouth to join them or not, just as how I respond in turn affects them.
There are no excuses for me, both for the complaints I have made or encouraged in the past, and (which is more shameful) those in the future, even after writing this post. The flesh dies hard.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are