This post, first written in October 2015, is an early layer in a lesson I’ve been working on. It’s worth re-visiting in April 2019.
Early in our marriage, my husband and I attended a workshop on personality types. Everyone in the room was broken into four groups based on responses to a questionnaire. The groups were illustrated on a four-quadrant chart, each quadrant labelled with a catch phrase. My responses landed me in the quadrant labelled with the catch phrase, “I’m right.” My husband landed in the quadrant labelled “I know.” I reflexively looked over at him and said, “As long as you know that I’m right, this marriage should work out beautifully.”
Yeah, it has been a long painful fall from that kind of pride.
During my first year of teaching, the seasoned teachers on my hallway were keeping their distance from me. One morning, after a huge mistake resulted in catastrophe, I indignantly marched down to the other teachers and said, “Why didn’t you say something? How could you let me do this?” They quietly replied, “Well, you seemed to have everything figured out for yourself.”
In the early years of parenting, I was intentionally ‘getting everything right’. This belief was evidenced by my judgmental glances toward others who ‘didn’t have it all together’. I harshly judged another mother whose son punched my daughter, but winced weeks later when my daughter bit another child in the church nursery.
Yup, it happened.
I would like to say that it stopped there, but it’s hard to quit “being right”. Often in my classroom I have joked, “I could be wrong; it happened once in 1973, so I imagine it could happen again.” Of course my students roll their eyes. In fact, I have had students who document in their notes every time I make a mistake specifically for the purpose of reminding me whenever I tell that joke.
I’ve gotta laugh at myself. I mean, really, it’s ridiculous to think that I would be right all the time. Yet, I’m always shocked when my humanity shows through.
The most painful falls have come through parenting, of course. I guess, as a mother, much of my identity comes through my children. It shouldn’t, but it does. I pride myself on their accomplishments — their success in school, sports, the arts, and their careers. I sternly corrected their failures when they were young — failing to turn in assignments, treating friends poorly, or –gasp– sassing their parents. They are, in my mind, a reflection of me. So, it becomes very painful when I see them struggling because of something that I have directly, or more often indirectly, taught them. When they adopt the patterns that I have modeled for them, the very ones that have caused me so much pain, I ache. I tend to see these times not as their failures, but as mine. If only I would have taught them that it is ok to fail, that it is healthy to admit our mistakes, that it is freeing to apologize, that it is not helpful to rationalize your sins. If I had done that, then they would have learned to apologize quickly and forgive quickly.
When they were toddlers and misbehaved toward one another, I taught them to say, “I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you.” I prided myself in that. My kids were going to learn how to forgive quickly, darn it. But here’s the thing — kids don’t learn what you say, they learn what you do. So, when they misbehaved and I stomped through the house slamming doors and muttering under my breath, they were not learning that I would readily forgive them. When I explained away my misguided parenting decisions instead of admitting my error, they learned how to explain away their decisions — to rationalize them, to somehow make them seem ok.
Along the way, instead of me teaching them, they have taught me about apology and forgiveness. Kids do that. They teach us the lessons that we most need to learn. They are worlds ahead of me in this process. However, from time to time I see my stubbornness in them — the stubbornness I taught them. That breaks my heart.
So, let me go on record and say, I’ve had it wrong, guys. I haven’t always admitted that I have made a mistake. But here let me say that each of my days are full of mistakes. I am hobbling along in life, sometimes trying my best, sometimes doing my worst. And, I’m sorry.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,Psalm 86
abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
6 Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
listen to my plea for grace.