Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Making Mistakes: Part 2

Mistakes are a funny thing; when we do them we long for forgiveness and grace from others. Yet, when others do them to us (and we suffer) then we want justice! Punishment! We want that person to feel bad! So they never do it again . . .

This is of course an overstatement. But seriously, when it comes to accepting others mistakes we often need to take the log out of our own eye - we are hypocrites. So how should we respond when someone makes a mistake and it hurts us? I would argue that we need to be extremely gracious and extremely wise.

A year ago Jobina spilled some coffee on the keyboard of our ancient iMac. I was a little annoyed, but not too bad. Things happen right? And haven't I ruined a few of her things (for instance I'm not allowed to do laundry anymore)? So no big deal, Jobina agreed to keep coffee away from the computers and my friend Jason gave us a keyboard and all was good. A few days later I came home and Jobina seemed a little "strange." Eventually I got out of her that she was downstairs and placed her coffee cup near my beautiful little laptop (at this point I felt sick to my stomach) when "all of a sudden" the coffee fell over and spilt hot liquid into the back of my iBook! I ran downstairs and my laptop was making some funny noises - it was gone. The motherboard was fried. Now keep in mind that Jobina had just spilled coffee on our keyboard a few days ago. My first reaction was anger! My poor little iBook! I started to punish her verbally, but as I did, I started to think about how bad she obviously felt and how punishing her would not do any good in the long run (if you disagree strongly with this I would bet you probably are having some serious relationship problems with others). Since I too have made mistakes and because I'm a Christ follower - I had to forgive her. It was tough, but the only logical thing to do. She appreciated the forgiveness and though I had a few regressive episodes it is now something that we can laugh at.

When we punish someone (and by punishing I mean attacking who they are as a person for making a mistake), we are telling them a few things. First we are telling them that we are better then them, that we don't make mistakes. This is of course pure hypocrisy! Secondly, we are telling them that their mistake is enough to actually offset the relationship - "I love you, but because you made a mistake, I'm going to hurt you." This is unhelpful because mistakes are true tests of love - how is the person going to respond when things get tough? Lastly, punishing people for mistakes is reaction; you react by wronging the person who has wronged you.

Now you might say, "But Mark, how will people learn if we don't punish them? We can't just always forgive people - if people are never punished they will keep on making their mistakes!" I would say that what people need is not punishment but consequences. Punishment is a reaction that attacks the whole person while consequences are a logical response to specific actions. This is a subtle but powerful difference. Usually when we punish someone it is to make us feel better, consequences are intended for the good of everyone.

So when someone makes a mistake (even big ones) we need to forgive them (and the sooner the better). Not just for the relationship's sake, but for ourselves. Studies show that unforgiveness and bitterness destroy a person's health. Yet, we also need to act with wisdom - carefully thought out consequences that will limit further mistakes, protect those involved, and hopefully allow for trust to rebuilt. A brother who steals from his sister needs consequences more then punishment - punishment only works short term while consequences work long term. An abusive spouse needs forgiveness but also consequences - consequences that protect the spouse from abusing and the other spouse from being abused. As I noted in my last post, mistakes can be wonderful learning opportunities but if the lesson isn't learned, appropriate consequences (applied with tough love) need to be applied. It's the loving way to respond.

As I was writing this, Jobina came in and let me know that I had made a mistake about something and she wasn't happy about it (let's just say it involved leaving some food residue in our extremely hot car overnight). She told me how she felt about it (annoyed) and I said I was sorry. She accepted it, and left to run some errands. Hopefully I will learn from this but if I do it again, most likely consequences will come my way. She didn't punish me though and for this I am grateful. May you offer the same grace to those who's mistakes affect you today and may you deal wisely with them as well.

May Light increase!


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