It happened again today.
I was sitting at my desk, working on my usual business, when it hit me—I’d made a clerical error in our shipping department.
Nothing huge or world-ending, mind you. No one was bleeding or dying. No one was even going to be drastically and everlastingly inconvenienced. It was a quick fix requiring that I own up to my oversight, make it right, and just like that, it was done.
Or was it?
In reality, yes; and for the customer, yes. But even as I was in the process of rectifying the error, I already knew…this was “one of those things.” I was going to think about it that night, and cringe; I was going to look back on it in a week, and feel a shiver of regret. I was going to trawl it up from the depths of my memory in a month or two, and sigh deeply as I berated myself for being foolish enough to overlook so simple an error…
Full disclosure: I am a perfectionist, and I am hard on myself. What this ultimately translates to, how it often manifests itself, is in a lack of grace. When it comes to anyone but myself, I find an almost endless spool of graciousness. I just don’t have a problem giving others the benefit of the doubt, most of the time, and I’d rather cut them slack than start a fight. But when it comes to myself, I don’t extend a lot of grace. In fact, I hardly give any at all. And I know I’m not alone, either. I can hardly go through the day without hearing someone—a friend, a family member, or a stranger in passing—completely beat themselves down over a mistake. Usually something small, which will be forgotten by the day’s end.
Somehow, many of these people seem perfectly able to extend grace to others…while keeping none in reserve for themselves.
But is that a biblically sound way to approach life? I don’t think it is. We are all masterpieces of God—even in our flawed, sinful state—and though we make mistakes, that doesn’t mean we are mistakes. We aren’t stupid, slow, dumb, broken, or any of the other clever adjectives we drum up to describe ourselves when we’re in error. When we say those things, we are insulting the creation (ourselves) and the Creator as well—and as someone who creates stories, I know how much it hurts when someone is overly critical of my work. It must break God’s heart when we take one flaw and extrapolate on it until we think we are that flaw!
Here are some reasons why I believe it’s godly to give ourselves grace:
Because we are only human.
Yes, this saying has been used to excuse some pretty…well, inexcusable deeds. Being human is no excuse for bad behavior; however, it’s helpful if we understand that as sinful humans, we are going to make mistakes. Small ones, big ones, today, tomorrow, next week. I’m going to mess up; you’re going to mess up. And we have to accept that. We also need to really grasp that there is forgiveness when we do mess up. Nothing is hidden from the eyes of God; He knows our human weakness, He has always known it. In fact, He sent His own Son to pay the price for both our willful and accidental mess-ups. We are human, we are not gods, we are going to make mistakes. But that does not mean we are irredeemable.
Because God gives us grace.
The theme of grace can be found throughout the Bible. Grace, at its most distilled form, is “undeserved favor.” And God has given us this undeserved favor in droves. When we withhold grace from ourselves, we are in essence saying that we know better about what we deserve for our mistakes than the very One who created us. Thus we become our own Lord and Master, meting out punishment for our faults and failures; but because we are only human, a lot of times we go too far in berating ourselves…far beyond God’s metric of justice. We beat ourselves up endlessly over the little things. What we need to do is to understand how and why God gives grace to us…and accept that we can spare a little for ourselves, too.
Because self-deprecation can lead to self-hate
Humility is awesome. In fact, it’s impossible to live a godly life without a good dose of humility. It’s the gentle understanding that allows us to heed correction, resist pride, and keep a measured scope of our place in the grand scheme of life. God wants His people to be humble—in fact, He favors the humble and opposes the proud! But God does not want self-hate from His children; not only does it mock the creation He made in His image, but it also prevents us from being fully effective for His purposes. We can’t operate our God-given gifts and talents to the glory of His kingdom if we refuse to acknowledge those giftings within us. When we give ourselves grace after repenting from a mistake, it stops us from going down the road of endless self-deprecation that can so easily become self-hate—which then makes us ineffective in the Body of Christ.
Because true humility is a balance
Have you ever heard the term “false humility”? This phrase refers to that kind of “humble attitude” that is so self-deprecating, it actually crosses over into humble bragging. That kind of “poor me” mentality begs to be told how actually wonderful it actually is. And if we wallow for too long in a place where we withhold grace from ourselves, eventually we will start to either a) withhold it from others, or b) look for all of the grace we need from outside sources…usually by expressing our flaws, because we are dwelling on them SO MUCH, and then sitting back and waiting to be reassured that we’re actually okay. But it isn’t the grace from others that we’re really yearning for…it’s from ourselves. We’re baited on our own hook, not theirs; and this kind of false humility can unbalance friendships, creating friction as one individual is constantly seeking validation that will never be enough.
In summary: I’m not suggesting we give ourselves a free pass when we sin. Nor do I think grace should come without repentance, or that we shouldn’t “own up” to it when we fall short. But it benefits each of us to take a look at our lives and ask, “Am I withholding grace from myself in some area? And if so, why? Why am I holding on to this mistake, this argument, this issue?”
In the end, gracelessness is us holding a grudge against ourselves, and judging according to an ungodly standard. And I truly believe the healthy response to that is to repent, give ourselves grace, and release it all…so that we can focus, not on our own shortcomings, but on the things of God. And then we can serve His kingdom well.