I recently received an e-mail from someone who listed off a whole list of grievances detailing things I had done or failed to do that angered and disappointed them. The e-mail concluded with a statement to the effect that I have failed to live what I preach. (My first gut reaction to that last statement was, “I could have told you that years ago and saved you the trouble!” Look hard enough at me, spend enough time with me, and yes, you will find that I am riddled with inconsistency and flaws, just like everyone else. I only strive to do what I preach, praying one day to get it right, in the mean time living by grace with myself and with others.)
But still, that e-mail was a painfully jagged pill to swallow. It was hurtful and embarrassing. I did not want to launch into hyper-defense mode and make a tit-for-tat counter argument that deflects any responsibility and throws back all the blame. On the other hand, I didn’t want to issue a half-hearted blanket apology laced with sappy remorse against a backdrop of woe-is-me self-crucifixion. Either extreme would have been a failure to own up to reality. If I was going to respond, I needed to carefully take responsibility for my wrongs, ask forgiveness, clarify things, and yes, state my own case for their wrong done in this situation, free from anger and innuendo. Tall order… But with God, all things are possible.
Of course, even my best efforts at a fair e-mail will most likely do nothing to satiate the person’s anger with me. E-mails never do that, so I can’t put unrealistic expectations on it. Sometimes there’s nothing I can do except give it to God and let it go, trusting that in time there may be more room for peacemaking. Or there may not be. Either way, I can only do what I can do.
Still, I have been anguishing the fact that I could let someone down like this, no matter how the blame or responsibility should be doled out. “You let me down…” Of all things that could I could bear to hear, that is among the absolute worst. I failed.
Admittedly, some of the anguish I feel stems from one of my incessant liabilities: my need for approval and affirmation. In other words, if you like me and what I do, I interpret that to mean that I’m worthy. However, if you don’t like me or what I do, I interpret that to mean I’m a failure. I’ve come a long way in my adult life to identify and diffuse this liability, but in situations like these, it always attempts to rear its pathetically ugly head. This ugly monster only knows two lines of fire: angry rebuke or playing the martyr, depending on what works best. Part of my response has been putting this monster back in its place.
Personal liabilities aside, I still grieve the situation and grieve my own failures. I have apologized, asked forgiveness, and am prepared to make whatever reasonable amends I can. In all reality, it comes down to accepting that this will have to do. It’s good enough for now.
I’m learning again that a primary key to peace is learning how to live with disappointment– with others, with myself, and even with God. The only remedy I’m aware of right now is grace. Grace is the key to forgiving myself, allowing myself to live with the reality that I have, I can, and I will fail. Others will, too. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). If only all people in a conflict could love like this, there would be enough will to diffuse even the most raging forms of anger.
Maybe I could carry around a business card to give people when I first meet them. Under my name, it will say “God’s Ragamuffin” followed by a disclaimer. “Warning: at some point I will frustrate, disappoint, and fail you. I ask your forgiveness in advance.” Then perhaps they will give me their card, identical in every respect except for the name. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
All in all, I am indeed a ragamuffin. I’m a patchwork of success and failure, faithfulness and unfaithfulness, gifts and liabilities, strengths and weaknesses. This crazy patchwork is sewn onto the fabric of God’s love by a God who daily shows me what it means to forgive the many times I fail, not because God is obliged to, but because my Abba Father truly, deeply loves me.
After all, I am a beloved child of God, more than the sum total of my life’s victories and defeats. I just need to keep reminding myself of that, and perhaps it will give me the confidence and wisdom to avoid putting all my life’s stock in either my strengths or my weaknesses, but in Christ who resurrects me above and beyond mere flesh and blood. Of course, the same reality applies to others, especially to the person who sent me that e-mail!