Not surprisingly, my mistakes are many and varied. While I strive to be calm, during moments of frustration, I can easily snap at my husband. I see the look on his face, and I wish I could grab my words and stuff them back into my mind rather than letting them escape from my tongue. The sadness in his response confirms that I have recklessly hurt him deeply.
Sometime last year, I was watching my friend’s little boy. As a mom of one, tossing another child in the mix tends to bring a bit of chaos to my day. At one point both children were crying for reasons that weren’t clear. My quick mommy analysis assessed that my friend’s son’s sobs were louder and more concerning than my daughter’s. Into my arms he went with a rocking hug motion to soothe his tears. After they subsided, I picked my daughter up only to discover blood. She had cut herself, and I had triaged the situation incorrectly. For the remainder of the day, feelings of inadequacy and self-anger held me captive.
Several years before I married my husband, I lingered in a relationship that should have been over from nearly the start. Our values weren’t aligned. Our goals didn’t mesh well. Arguments were prevalent. Our faith in Christ didn’t transform our lives in similar ways. The proverbial red flags were everywhere. Yet, I stayed hoping that things would change and wanting him to be “the one” even though I knew he wasn’t. When we finally went our separate ways, I was angry that I had clung so long, upset that I had been so unwise, and frustrated that it took me several years to find the courage to walk away.
As a human being, mistakes will inevitably find me. Either through misjudging a situation (picking up the wrong baby), making unwise choices (dating the wrong guy), or giving in to my own sinful nature (using harsh words), situations are constantly arising that I wish could have gone differently.
In varying degrees, the outcomes plague me long after the situation has past. Phrases ripe with self blame play on repeat in my head: “You are so silly,” “That was a dumb thing to do,” “Why couldn’t you find kinder words to say?” “Why can’t you control your temper?” “Why are you here all over again?” I find myself dealing with regrets about making a mistake or a poor choice. In those moments, I believe that I have failed to live up to my expectations of myself.
And what are those expectations?
I expect that I will always make the best decision. I expect that I will always make the right decision. I expect that I will always make the wise decision. I expect that I will always make the decision that yields a good outcome.
In a phrase: unrealistic expectations.
Long after my baby’s tears have dried and her cut has healed, long after my husband has wrapped his arms around me graciously extending words of forgiveness, long after a wrong relationship is a thing of the past, my anger at myself continues to remain in dark corners of my mind. The next time I find that I am not living up to my own expectations, my mind can readily find previous examples of personal shortcomings, sin, and mistakes.
So maybe I can be just a little bit hard on myself. Is that really a problem?
Absolutely. This tendency to ruminate on my own past sins and mistakes has effectively made my own opinion of me more important than God’s opinion of me. While God is looking at me through eyes of grace, I’m looking at myself through eyes of impossible perfection.
Perhaps this is why I am drawn to the disciple Peter’s story of imperfection, forgiveness, and restoration. His clear love for Christ contrasted with denying his Lord, not once, not twice, but three times. Denying Christ three times after being warned that he was going to do that. This failure seems like an example of the perfect opportunity to remain angry with yourself, berate yourself for falling so short of your own expectations, and wonder if Christ could possibly forgive you.
Peter’s denial of Christ was a wrong decision, a significant mistake, and ultimately sin. And yet Christ forgave Peter and restored him. What if Peter had chosen to beat himself up about his failure? What if he replayed his decisions and constantly recreated his error? Would he have been expecting perfection out of himself rather than gazing on the perfection of Christ? Would ruminating over his failure have effectively been denying Christ’s extension of forgiveness?
Peter’s story of sin and restoration remind me that my heart should be focused on God’s expectations of me rather than my own expectations of self. Micah 6:8 states:
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.
The phrases “do justice” and “love kindness” remind me that through the power of God I should strive to live as Christ wants me too. I should desire to make wise choices and overcome areas of sin. I should keep growing daily to be continually transformed to be more like Christ.
However, in the problem area of falling short of my own expectations, it’s the last part of this verse that brings about the greatest conviction. God commands me to walk humbly with Him. Part of walking humbly with my God is accepting His perfect forgiveness for my sins, my mistakes, and my shortcomings. Accepting God’s forgiveness means choosing to also forgive me. Part of understanding God’s forgiveness is recognizing that perfection will never find me in this life.
Christ’s blood shed on the cross covers all of my sins. The ones I’ve done and the ones I have yet to do. His gift of grace is an extension of forgiveness. How can I not forgive me, when God has given His son for the forgiveness of my sins?
Forgiving me means letting go of my expectation that I won’t mess up, that I won’t make mistakes. It is choosing to believe that God fully forgives me when I stumble, fall, or even dive into sin. That He forgives me for dating the wrong guy for too long, snapping at my husband, or not being there when my daughter needed me. In this, there is freedom to release my expectations of perfection and instead cling to the perfection of my Savior.
And Peter? I imagine after Christ told him to feed His sheep, he focused his eyes ahead as he used his own experience with Christ’s forgiveness to build God’s kingdom. God’s redemption and restoration message were permanently imprinted on his heart. God’s forgiving grace ultimately gave him the power to forgive himself.
So I choose to say goodbye to unrealistic expectations of perfect decision making and never messing up. In its place, I choose humility before the throne of Christ; humility to fully accept and believe that God’s overwhelming grace and forgiveness enable me to move forward rather than hold me hostage to my past.