I sat at the table with my face in my hands. The sounds of plates, cups and a few muffled conversations filled the air, except for in the space around me which was now silent. You see, I had just melted down. All over someone else. Someone who had just wanted to drink a cup of coffee. Someone who had planned to have a nice easy breezy day. I had ruined it. And I could not believe that I had done that. Have you ever been there?
If you have, then maybe you were tempted to do what I really wanted to do next, which was to rationalize it away. The person had caught me on a bad day. My feelings were valid. I was in pain from physical therapy which makes me extra grumpy. I have been under stress. So on. So forth. And a million other reasons why my harsh words and sharp tone were warranted. But as much as I didn’t want to face my actions, the truth was, I had messed up.
And let me tell you, admitting that you made a mistake is no fun at all.
But, what comes next is even harder – asking for forgiveness from the two people who were hurt the most. Now, the first person to ask forgiveness from is easy(ish). That’s the person who you wounded. As I sat in the restaurant booth hoping really, really hard that Marty McFly and his Lamborghini Time Machine would come whizzing by and I could rewind the previous half-hour, I knew that the first thing that I needed to do was admit my mistake and apologize. I also knew that this person would likely receive this with generosity – which turned out to be true. So, after I hung up the phone I felt a smidge better. But I also suspected that the next person I needed to deal with would be much less forgiving, and I was right.
Because that person was me. Have you ever been there?
If you are like me, then you don’t like messing up. You know the difference between right and wrong and you like to do right, but you don’t always actually get everything right. And when you get it wrong, you take it hard. Regretful. Remorseful. Repentant. But also Really Mad At Yourself. This is because sometimes the hardest person to forgive is you. This is where I have been since my coffee got cold at the restaurant. I have been trying to figure out how to make peace with myself. And as I have been thinking about it, I started to wonder if there were any people in the Bible who had messed up and had a hard time forgiving themselves too? That’s when I remembered Peter.
Peter, who loved Jesus, was committed to Jesus, and most assuredly wanted to do right by Jesus, messed up pretty big one time (more than once actually). Peter, who promised to never deny Christ, had denied him three times before the rooster even crowed. (Seriously, where is that time machine when you need it?) It says in the Bible that when he realized what he had done he wept bitterly. And as I sat there in the restaurant feeling bad about my own mess up, I started to think about Peter. It doesn’t say exactly what was running through his mind when he realized his mistake. Clearly he was sorry, and just as clearly Jesus forgave him, because, well it’s Jesus. He does that sort of thing. But we don’t know how long it took before Peter was able to forgive himself.
So, what did Peter do? Was he upset with himself for a few minutes and then was he able to pour on the self-grace? Did he shake it off and go on with his day whistling a happy tune? Or did it take days, years, or even the rest of his life to let himself off the hook? We will never know. But what I do know is this. I hope Peter didn’t wait too long before he forgave himself. Because when I picture Peter realizing his mistake and weeping bitterly, with what I imagine would be his face in his hands, I want to reach out and tell him this. “It’s OK. We all mess up sometimes. Don’t be too hard on yourself.” And I like to imagine that if Peter would have been in the restaurant with me when my face was in my hands, he would have said the same.
Because forgiveness matters. We can’t move on without letting go first. When we don’t offer forgiveness to others or ourselves, we stay stuck in the moment where things were lost. We stay angry, hurt, or even embarrassed. None of those places are much fun to hang out in. In fact, they feel pretty awful. That’s why we don’t like to picture Peter weeping bitterly for too long. We know what that feels like, and that feels pretty awful too.
Now understand, that forgiveness doesn’t always come easily. It can take time, especially when the forgiveness is needed for ourselves. But that is OK. Life isn’t always easy. Coffee conversations at restaurants aren’t always easy. Admitting mistakes is almost never easy. But they are all important. We don’t always get it right, but when we get it wrong we need to do the right thing. Admit our mistake. Ask for forgiveness. And give forgiveness too. Because at the end of the day, we are all Peters (and Barbs), and we all mess up sometimes. We all need forgiveness sometimes. Because we’ve all been there.