Have you ever really screwed something up? Forgot your line on stage in the middle of the show? Put your foot in your mouth? Call your friend’s new girlfriend by the ex-girlfriend’s name? I do this kind of thing all the time. I don’t know how it happens or why it happens. I’m not an idiot. I am fairly tactful in social situations, I am even good at remembering details like names and occupations of people I have just met… and yet I make an ass of myself all the time by the things I say or do.I’m not exaggerating, I am fairly notorious for this amongst my friends.
For example, I was talking with my boss recently about the Myers-Briggs test we took at our team building office meeting. He tested as a “P” for perception and I tested as a “J” for judgment and we discussed with sarcasm the positive and negative qualities of the other based on these letters. Then my boss says, “Actually, when I think about the “P” of my personality, I don’t know why I am an office manager.”
I knew he was joking but I wanted to praise his qualities as a manager and how the “P” of his personality really helped his management style. So what do I say to him? “I think you’re a great manager because of your P-ness…”
If it hasn’t hit you by now, try saying it out loud to yourself. That’s right, I earnestly and without hesitating for a moment to think it through, told my boss that it was because of his “P-ness” he was a good office manager. Needless to say this was an awkward moment.
I have these moments all the time and they seem to be happening more frequently as I try on my role as a leader in ministry. In church last week I was assisting at the altar and I began to serve the wine before the priest had given the bread. Those of you from a heavily liturgical church culture know how much of a faux pas this is. Before I even realized what I was doing I was being told by the poor soul receiving the sacrament that I needed to wait, the priest hadn’t gotten to him yet. I knew my actions were out of order, I was raised in the church and yet I was making a mistake I never imagined myself to make.
Luckily for me, in all of these situations I have been given a smile, a laugh, and kind pat on the back. People try to make me feel better and it becomes a great story for us all to share, I’m sure. If I am really lucky I let myself laugh at my mistakes but this doesn’t always come so easily. The embarrassment of these moments is so incredibly painful and in the moments after it has happened I cannot believe what an idiot I am. I go through my mind wishing to God I had the power to turn back time and erase the mistake I made.
But these things happen to all of us; a priest told me once about a time he saw another priest’s pants come down in the middle of the church service. I’ve seen people pass out when they serve in church or say the wrong name in a ceremony. I’ve heard of people calling their boss or worse- their spouse- by the wrong name. My husband accuses me of this constantly as I accidentally (I swear) call him by our dog’s name. It’s terrible. It happens. It’s human. But let’s be honest, it still sucks.
I tend to be a perfectionist and hold myself to high standards so these foot-in-mouth moments often knock the wind out of me. In the days after the incident occurs I find myself asking God, “Why did I do that?” And when I am feeling really depressed, “God, why did you let me say that?”I never get a straightforward response by the way.
In my recent pondering over the embarrassing things I do I have realized that when other people make a mistake I am usually one of the first one’s to rush to their side and say, “Hey, I’ve been there, it’s okay. You’re just fine.” But I still have a harder time forgiving myself than I do others, for when I make a mistake my thoughts are not friendly, they are downright mean. Why can’t I extend the same grace to myself that I would extend to someone else?
So much of learning to love is focused on loving others. I am a huge advocate of this, I follow a man whose main teaching is to love your neighbor as yourself. But we often forget that it does say, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I am not talking about the egotistical love of one’s self, the selfish love that clouds our vision of the needs of others. I am talking about that tender love that sits at the heart of our existence.
This self-love comes from somewhere outside of us, not just the love we get from others, but the love we have been given from our beginning. The love that we receive simply because we were created and born into the world. It means we are loved independently of anything else. We are loved simply because we exist. Maybe if we remembered this love of self we might have an easier time forgiving our mistakes.
It might sound simple, but I don’t think it is. I still play these embarrassing moments on rerun in my mind cringing every time. Maybe our mistakes are a reminder that we are not perfect, but they can also be a lesson in learning to love. A challenge for me right now is learning to be gentle with myself. Do you love yourself? Not for you who could be, or what you do but for who you are? Even when you make mistakes?
I would love to hear your foot-in-mouth stories.