Screwing Up   10 comments

Two weeks ago, having failed to find another job, I moved from a part time position in appliance sales at Home Depot to full time in the paint department.  I was stacking paint last night on a high shelf and dropped a gallon can of shellac-based primer.  It crashed to the floor, covering my shoes, my pants, a six-foot stretch of aisle, and splattering all the products on the bottom shelf.  Herbert, an assistant manager, came to help me clean things up, and as we soaked up the puddles, the rest of it dried hard.  It was well past closing time by then, so we had to stop, leaving a note for the morning crew.

I hate to make a mess that I can’t fix myself, especially if someone else is then forced to deal with my mistakes.  It’s especially hard when others are resentful or critical–their feeling is understandable, even justifiable, and I have no means of rectifying it.  Today I have a low-level hum of dis-ease as thoughts about it keep circulating up to my consciousness and then subsiding again.  It is my day off, so I can’t even apologize in person (although I did in the note).

What strikes me as especially sad is my tendency to feel bad even when the other person seems gracious, as everyone at my job has been.  I find it so hard to trust grace.  I’m sure they’re just being nice outwardly but have ticked a black check by my name.  They think, “He owes me,” or “He can’t be trusted,” or some such ungracious reaction… probably make wry comments in the break room.  I feel so much safer with others when I can skirt my need for grace and just prove myself by hard work.

But “safer” here is a feeling based on good performance reviews, which is a legalistic trap.  It means that I continue to value myself (and others) by our effectiveness and only turn to grace as a last resort, a “grace of the gaps.”  But when legalism is the daily currency, it shapes our whole mindset and relationships.  If grace is only the fall-back, we are still operating out of a legalistic mindset in which only the failing require grace.  I don’t realize how easily I slip into this mindset until I am the one screwing up and in need of grace.  My failures become an invitation into a worldview of grace.

So often I respond to others’ failures with this stop-gap grace.  I reflexively judge their failing because gracious thoughts do not come naturally to me.  So when I realize my unkind thoughts, I try to force myself to think differently, push away the critical thoughts and talk myself into being accepting of their faults.  “They don’t know any better,” I say, or “They aren’t good at planning ahead.”  The underlying assumption is that “good” people like me don’t need grace, at least not much, but these unfortunates need grace.  I only pull out the grace card when it is needed, but am quite content to otherwise live with a legalistic mindset.

But true grace knows no hierarchy or proportion, giving itself fully to everyone.  Certainly exercising grace is more difficult in some situations and with some people than others.  It is much easier to give grace to an apologetic person than an angry one, but both are in equal need of grace as is the person who did not mess up at all (though grace may present itself differently in each case).  In fact, it is the the one who rarely screws up that is probably in “more” need of grace than the others, for she is much more likely to be blind to grace and her need of it.  Either grace is the lifeboat we only use when someone falls out of the ship of a performance-based worldview, a way to accommodate misfits and failures, or grace is the ship in which we choose to sail.

I want more and more to learn to see the world with a grace mindset.  When I am challenged by my own failings or by my judgmentalism of others’ failings, I don’t want to apply grace like a bandaid to help us through that moment, but I want it to be a reminder of the worldview I wish to wholly embrace where grace is the engine and the rudder and the compass.  I have a long way to go.  May I use my blunders as stepping stones to grow in my commitment to grace and not see them as challenges to try harder to earn my worth.

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Posted March 22, 2017 by janathangrace in Personal

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10 responses to “Screwing Up

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  1. Thanks for this very timely reminder! Your writing, particularly on this topic, draws me to sit at Jesus’s feet.

  2. I don’t think practicing grace comes naturally to any us. What a wonderful opportunity for us to recognize that lack that only God can fill in us.
    Growth , growth and more growth

  3. shucks. imagine the shoe on the other foot. Are your resentful and negative, or feeling bad for the guy that left you the note and seems genuinely sorry for the snafu that happened at the end of his shift? We all have our days…

  4. Thank you so much for that reminder.

  5. The mistakes and accidents that are my fault have made me much more gracious to others and much more empathetic to them in their circumstances. I am the tester of any system or process at the bakery that could be dangerous. I have closed drawers on my fingers, dropped heavy pans and trapped my wrist between them and the stainless steel pot sink, tripped on the floor mats, overturned glass items taking them out of the dishwasher and smashed them on the floor causing huge dangerous cleanup… caught my pants leg on the curled edge of our wrought iron patio table legs and fallen… the list could go on. I realize that as an aging woman with MS, my mental position is different from yours as a strong, capable, intelligent man. But I always see myself as Ross Clemenger (my dad) and accepting my view and the views of others of myself as the walking accident waiting to happen has been a growth opportunity for me. 🙂 I know it wasn’t the topic of this post, but for the record, having worked with employees and co-workers I can assure you that you are not perceived as anything but an asset and a valued member of the team. If they don’t know you well enough or have not looked in your eyes enough to see that yet, they will very soon. Thanks for this post.

    • Yes, every indication is that they value me, but fear is not based on possibility ratios. Mine of course comes from a father who could never quite be satisfied with our performances. It is a long journey to work free of that heavy weight. Thanks for your comments.

  6. I really like the lifeboat metaphor. It strikes center mass… But instead of getting upset at myself for not being grace-oriented I’ll try to be grace-oriented towards myself… Not sure if that’s maybe even harder than being grace-oriented towards others (which really doesn’t come easily either)…

    • Peter, I really think the two are inextricably connected. I find I can’t afford emotionally to be gracious to others unless I am truly gracious with myself. I think this is the real meaning of “if you do not forgive others their sins, your father in heaven will not forgive you.” God is not “punishing” us for not forgiving. He continues to offer forgiveness, but he knows it won’t “get through,” that we won’t be able to accept it in any genuine, grace-affirming way because by not forgiving our brother or sister, we are opting for a legalistic frame of reference and legalists cannot embrace grace. Our whole system includes us all or it is pseudo-grace.

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