“I made a mistake.” These four words once rocked my world. Sometimes they still do.
As a teacher, my fear of mistakes was helpful because my role was to make sure I eliminated mistakes in the lives of my students. My job description included this unspoken qualification: “Freak out at mistakes; they mess up our test scores.”
As the daughter of a Southern Baptist preacher, my fear of mistakes seemed helpful, too. Nothing like being a PK to encourage the lie that I’m supposed to be perfect.
As the daughter of a mother who struggled desperately with mental illness, avoiding mistakes was vital. My unspoken motivation was “just don’t rock the boat” so mom won’t have to go the hospital for trying to kill herself again.
Before I go any further, I know this to be very, very true. During my childhood, my father and mother loved me very much. My mother loved me until her last breath about five years ago – liver failure from an overdose. My father loves me dearly to this day – and now I am enjoying his love.
But my fear of mistakes kept me from experiencing love for most of my life. I wore so many masks. Some of them still hang in my closet; I pull them out almost like the habit of a familiar sweatshirt. (trueface.com)
My mask wardrobe includes some of the most popular labels: “Good Enough” and “Fixer” were two of my favorites. Of course, those have to be accessorized with “Judge” and “Critic.”
The love from my parents – and the love from many others – was absorbed and deflected by my masks; their love never penetrated to my heart. I tried to earn love – so real transactions rarely occurred.
Yes, grace belongs in education, too. School is one of the best places to marinate in grace. Our society’s struggle is trusting that grace is the stuff of maturity – and rejecting the lie that grace is coddling, or that it may belong in church, but not in school.
Children only mature in an environment of grace; I learned that the hard way. That’s ok. As children mature, they make fewer mistakes. They make fewer mistakes because we help them and they grow up, not because we hand them the burden of perfection or the demands or identity of a mask.
My life has been an experiment in making mistakes – and studying yours. I have lived long seasons, determined to earn grace. I have lived long seasons in rebellion, giving up on grace. And I am enjoying this season of learning to trust grace.
I offer this partial summary of my experiment in responding to mistakes (mine and yours) with and without grace:
Without grace –
- When I make a mistake, I hide, blame, use negative self-talk, shame myself or others. I may stop trying – having experienced struggle before that left me with unresolved issues. Or I may put demands on myself to do “extra-credit” to prove I’m good enough to belong and for you to love me.
- I begin to count all of my “right behaviors” and all of your “wrong behaviors” desperately trying to improve my identity with a good score.
With grace –
- When I make a mistake – I drag it into the light, trusting God and others and asking for help. I give others permission to remind me of my true identity.
- I ask for forgiveness in the ways my mistakes hurt you because it’s important that you trust me – so you can receive my love. I may choose to give you the gift of restitution as a way of loving you, because my need and motivation is restored trust in our relationship.
Without grace –
- When you make a mistake, I blame you, laugh at you, distance myself from you, call you names, judge you, and I may even shame you.
- I lose hope that you will ever get this right.
- I may end the relationship – and / or I may put demands on you to do “extra-credit” to prove you are good enough to belong and for me to love you.
- Your mistakes disrupt my well-being because I trust you (and your behavior and performance) to establish my well-being. Because you have disrupted my well-being…I freak out, feeling like “everything is at risk.”
- I fix your mistake for you, I protect you from the consequences, I pretend it doesn’t matter – all because I am desperate for you to stay close and I’m afraid you may abandon me.
- I think any ways you distance yourself from me is about me; I don’t yet know your leaving is your way of hiding, afraid because you made a mistake.
- I hand you a mask; it may sound like a label, and it may become your identity. I offer you an excuse or a way to hide.
With grace –
- When you make a mistake, I come looking for you and invite you to be honest – or I run to welcome you when you come looking for me, ready to be real. I offer you protection and sit with you as you drag the mess into the light and ask for help – trusting God, me, and others.
- I ask you to give me permission to remind you of your true identity; I offer you affirmation.
- I offer to stand beside you as you experience the consequences; I want to protect you from the lies about your identity during what will be a season of struggle. I offer relationship while life is hard.
- I deal with God in all the ways your mistake hurts me; I let His love heal my wounds. This healing equips me to move on in my life with trusting relationships.
- This healing also prepares me to say “yes!” to your request of forgiveness when you’re ready because I, too, want to restore trust in our relationship. I receive your love and offer you mine.
- I may need to ask you for your forgiveness for the ways I have shamed you in the past – realizing that I may have encouraged your fear of messing up instead of help you resolve your fear in love.
Without grace –
- I look for your mistakes and flaws – subtracting them from your worth. My goal is to keep myself off the “reject” list – so I’m ok with you being on it. In fact, if I’m having a bad day – I may want you on that list and my search for your flaws will be intense because you need to be lower on the the list of “acceptable” than I am.
- Or, I may just stop caring – about your mistakes or mine. I have found ways to entertain myself – and numb my pain.
With grace –
- I see your mistakes and struggles, and I see your gifts, beauty, and God-given identity. My goal is trust in our relationship so you will let me love you; I want you to believe me when I affirm your true identity.
- I know that grace is the stuff of maturity; I know who you are because of your trust in Christ. I trust you are right on time – and that Christ in you will become more evident because you are growing up in an environment of grace.
- I only know this is true about you because I also trust it is true about me.
Maybe you can see it, too – the roots of my destiny in the depths of my greatest struggle. Offering a way to experience grace in education — redesigning school in a way that doesn’t fear mistakes. Just like yours, mine is a story only God can write.
If you’re curious about what grace looks like in education, read these previous blogposts, and subscribe for others:
If you’re interested in digger deeper into these ideas for yourself or for your family – or maybe even helping us in this journey, we’re excited to hear from you. As always, I look forward to your comments and questions – and we get excited about new relationships.