When we love a person, we accept him or her exactly as is: the lovely with the unlovely, the strong with the fearful, the true mixed in with the facade, and of course, the only way we can do it is by accepting ourselves that way.
One morning last week I (Tom) was on my way to work. I had just dropped my daughter off at school and was actually driving past another school on the edge of our town. Since I was in a “school zone” I was doing my best to keep to the 15 mile per hour reduced speed limit when a pick-up truck came barreling behind me, staying about two feet from my back bumper. The driver, a young guy with a female companion, kept on my bumper for a short distance and then, suddenly, swerved around me to pass me on a double yellow line. It reminded me of the opening scene from one of my favorite movies, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
I couldn’t believe it!
And then, he seemed to turn his wheel as if he was going to ram the side of my car.
I swerved to avoid being hit, which made him angry. He and his companion joined in yelling at me. Their fury and their aggressive behavior scared me. In feeling very vulnerable and threatened, my mind raced with the violent possibilities. It seemed as if this situation was not going to end nicely.
My fear and the need for self-preservation suddenly caused me to yell back. I screamed at the two of them:
WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING? ARE YOU CRAZY?
I was furious at their carelessness, at their breaking the law very blatantly, at the danger they put me and potentially many others (especially unaware children), and at the defenselessness they made me feel.
Suddenly they sped off, roaring out of sight in an instant. I was relieved, for my immediate safety. But I felt horrible about myself.
It was my reaction. I felt as if I had failed, by screaming back at the two people in the truck. I failed to keep my cool. I failed to treat them with dignity and respect. I lashed back at them by expressing the same intense anger that they were showing to me.
It wasn’t the type of demeanor I wanted to exhibit. I wasn’t proud of who I was in that instance. I was fearful I may have been seen in that moment by people who may know me.
I calmed down as I made my way to work. Later that morning when Michael and I met up I said:
I need to tell about what just happened to me on my way here today.
I laid it all out for him. The scenario. The actions and words of the two in the truck and my reaction in all its fury. I felt a needed to confess my shortcoming and weakness.
As we talked it through we eventually came to talk about grace, especially having grace for ourselves. I gradually got over the fear and anger that the people in the truck caused me to feel. But I wasn’t easily getting over myself–my feelings about reacting too strongly and lashing out. This has been a common struggle for me in my own spiritual journey. Yet as our conversation progressed, we came to talk about how common my reaction was. It was a very human reaction, one that Michael confessed he’s had in intense situations also.
The fact is, sometimes we get angry. Sometimes we aren’t gracious. Sometimes we get scared or hurt or frustrated. Sometimes we react in ways that cause us to feel ashamed or regretful …
I wish I didn’t yell at my children today…
I wish I didn’t respond that way to my coworker after she asked me a simple question…
I wish I would have done better on that presentation…
Our humanness sometimes causes us to say things and to do things that we wish we wouldn’t have. Our humanness causes us to regret things and to hold ourselves to a standard that, sometimes, is far harsher than it needs to be. Most of us are hardest on ourselves, far harder than we need to be or deserve. We hold onto mistakes and weaknesses – to our humanness – far too long and far too tightly. We need to have more grace for ourselves and learn to let go and move on. Grace allows us to be more fully human. Grace can set us free. Grace can help us to love better–to love ourselves, and others, too.