This image reminds me of failure. Every time I see it I get a little angry. Why? you might ask. The tree is amazing. Even for a late fall day in Caernarfon, Wales, this tree has wonderful foliage. I wanted to capture the tree as a stand alone sentinel, but that stupid building was there. To this day I wander what the purpose of that trashy little structure is. It has the appearance of old, but it wasn’t. If it was, they wouldn’t have put on cell relays on it. Cheap materials, cracks in the walls, flimsy door…just junky. I wanted space between the tree and the building. Why I didn’t move? Could there have been a better vantage point? I guess I also wanted space to separate the tree from the background trees as well. And the whole image is kinked and unsettling. I don’t think the hillside was angled like that, nor the structure. It was a waste of a frame of film. Useless image. Failure! I still kick myself for not getting a better image.
Are there things in your life that you still kick yourself for years later? In 1998 I bought a used car from a guy in Los Angeles. It was the make and model I wanted, and it seemed to run good. My mom gave me a bunch of money so I could buy it. Within days it started acting up. My mechanic said the guy had done all sorts of things to jimmy the engine to keep it from blowing spark plug wires. It burned three spark plug wires in the month I had it. I didn’t feel right about selling it knowing the condition of the engine. In the end I traded it in for another used car for a net loss of $5,000. Failure! To this day I get angry when I think of that event. How did I get snowed so badly? Why did I not ask more questions? Why was I so impulsive? How could I have been so stupid? Ugh, even now my face burns and my fingers curl at the thought of it.
I have a hard time forgiving myself about my mistakes…especially the big ones. Truth is, it is harder to forgive ourself than to forgive others. “So many people have a constant, critical voice in their heads narrating their every move.” says Sharon Hartman in an excellent article on the subject on Web MD. Over the course of a lifetime, I developed that critical voice in my head that really pounds myself when I make a mistake. It could be simply passing the exit I want on the freeway, or forgetting something on the counter when I leave home…small stuff. Or could be big stuff like wasting $5,000 or saying something really hurtful to my wife. But forgiving myself is key if I am going to let go of resentment that poison life and my relationship in the now.
God’s grace is a wonderful thing, but it is at it’s most wondrous when we let it do what it is meant to do—change us. Grace means unmerited favor, and practically, it means God gives us goodness when we deserved badness. God forgave us even though we do our selfish thing almost always (read Romans 5:8). I’m thankful for His forgiveness, and can stand in awe of His grace toward me. But then I can be hyper-critical of myself and not allow His grace to sink to a deeper level in my heart. He is kinder to me than I am toward myself. Grace, put into practice, is treating yourself kindly when you really want to treat yourself badly (as a result of that constant, critical voice in our head). It is really hard to do…but your entire outlook on life depends on your growth in this area. (A great spiritual article on the subject.)
How can I grow in the ability to forgive myself? Not exhaustive, but here are few thoughts.
1. Start noticing when you are critical of yourself (it could be often).
2. Write on a few notecards some things you would say to a friend when you notice they are being critical of themselves. Encouragements, perspectives, God’s truths, whatever. (Carry them with you)
3. When in the middle of one of those critical moments, try to remember to pull out those cards and tell yourself those kind words.
4. Remember this truth: We think God is more critical of us in general, but in the everyday we treat ourself more critically than God actually ever does. God is kind toward us while we are harsh with ourself.
5. Try to grow in the frequency of pulling out those kind words instead of the harsh ones.
6. Eventually, those kinder words become the more “go to” thoughts.
So, I remember the exact exit on the freeway that I passed when I first gave myself the freedom to mess up and kindly told myself that it was OK. It was probably 15 years ago. That was a small thing. The harder thing is applying these thoughts when I think of the junker Camry I bought. I’m not stupid! I’m not worthless! I don’t HAVE to be angry with myself! I have to slow down my thoughts and remember God is kinder toward me than I am toward myself. I can really ruin a day when I let my anger run rampant. But I can also have a day when I enjoy God’s grace with more wonder when I apply that grace in my momentary pity party. Those are great days.
Failure doesn’t have to ruin your day. It can actually be a reminder to let God’s grace go deeper into a hurting part of your heart. Failure is actually an invitation to accept God’s grace and kindness more than you have in the past. You will remember those moments that you let His grace change you. And you can move past those self-critical wounds like freeway exits, experiencing God’s kindness with more frequency and depth.
This was the tree close-up. Try to remember my six points above as the six rungs to climb this tree to a place of forgiving yourself. It takes work to climb, but there is a payoff.