Fail Safe

“Forgiveness is a virtue of the brave.” –Indira Gandhi

I’ve been thinking lately about the nature of failure and forgiveness.

The thing is, I can be selfish.  It’s not intentional, but I have introvert tendencies, and when I get overwhelmed or exhausted, I withdraw my energies… and my powers of observation seem to tank right along with them. (To be honest, they’re pretty weak to begin with.  I’m not very sensitive and tend to miss both verbal and nonverbal cues that other people seem to pick up easily.)

A couple of years ago, I got very sick with a mystery illness that absolutely flattened me for the better part of 6 months. The doctors had all sorts of gloomy predictions for what might be happening, and the stress of dealing with those ideas, along with the endless testing and overall feeling of crappiness led me to pull back on the time I devoted to making sure I stayed connected in my friendships.

I took it one step further, however, and here’s where the selfishness really kicked in: I was so focused on my own issues that I failed to see that someone I loved dearly was really struggling- and what she was going through brought a much deeper pain than any physical issue I was having. Wrapped up in my own problems, I was totally oblivious…until one day, my fog suddenly lifted, and I thought… “Wait. We haven’t really talked about anything of consequence in months. And that’s not normal.”

Some things are so important, so heartbreaking, that they can only be talked about with someone to whom you feel fully connected. And when I finally woke up to that fact, it became obvious why she’d never said a word. I knew in that moment that having missed those signs was one of my life’s most significant failures- and that I had to do much better going forward.

The regret tied to this failure remains, but it’s softened by something this friend said when I asked forgiveness for having been so blind to her pain.

“There’s nothing to forgive. But if you need my forgiveness, you have it.”

Hearing those words allowed me to forgive myself, too.

This concept of failings and forgiveness came back into play months later as we talked about a situation that she felt had “revealed all my failings.” At the time, I lightly suggested that she gives others so much grace that perhaps she’d “run out” when it came to providing it for herself. I hesitated to express what I really wanted to say, because the I think this idea is essential, and I wanted to get it right.

I penned her a letter later that night, after I’d had some time to think about failing, and about the nature of grace.  

This was the basic message: Being gentle with ourselves is so important. We are our own worst critics, and carry the expectation, however unrealistic, that we must demand from ourselves perfection in word, thought, and deed. It’s a lovely ideal, but this mindset brings us no end of grief, because it will NEVER happen.

We will fail, and in those failures, we will disappoint ourselves and others. There’s just no avoiding it, and that’s because we’re only human, and because time and experience provide our lessons. We get through them with grace from others, and from ourselves.

And for what it’s worth, I think there’s something that redeems many of our failures.

Despite what our traitorous minds might suggest, almost none of our missteps are truly catastrophic, unforgivable failures. Do we often need to make amends? Yes. But it’s an opportunity to grow- to take a step forward on the path toward doing better. We only truly fail if we refuse to acknowledge our failures and learn from them.

Aaaaand…. We get to begin every day anew. We have another chance to get things right every day.

Stop beating yourself up over mistakes. Tell yourself: “If you need my forgiveness, you have it”. They may be the kindest words you’ll ever hear.

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