I would like to define myself by my finest moments: laughing with colleagues, listening intently to a friend, offering help to some stranger, working carefully to fit a cabinet door. That’s how I like to see myself and how I like others to see me.
I’d just as soon leave off those other glimpses: dark moments of anger, darker moments of depression, ancient hurts stirred into regrets, indifference to the hurts of others, good pieces of hardwood molding wasted by a quarter-inch mistake. Those are the things I’d like to keep hidden—from myself, my family, others I love and strangers.
It is doubtless stronger in some than in others but in nearly all people is a desire to escape the constraints of our deficiencies. We want to triumph over every defect, wipe out every blemish, overcome every fault. Or at the least, keep those hidden from most of the world. We want to be perfect, or at the least to be quite excellent in every aspect.
It’s frustrating enough to have such expectations for ourselves and doubly damning to raise such for others. And sometimes, we really don’t know which disappoints us most—our faults or those of others. I cannot confirm but strongly suspect that we are most offended when we see our own defects in others. Whatever most irritates me may well be the thing that I most resent within my own character.
This can lead to a multitude of undesirable results, most of which degrade our relationships, our effectiveness and our own well-being. A relentless expectation of excellence in every aspect of life creates standards that neither we nor our colleagues, friends and family can live up to. Mistakes are inevitable, disappointment is guaranteed and human inclination will prevail.
We need mercy and we need to show mercy. In our expectations and in our responses. In our actions and our reactions. Strive for excellence, yes. Demand it without exception, no. The great assumption of the Golden Rule is that we desire good for ourselves. Even in the midst of our flaws and faults, our doubts and darknesses, our achievements and our failures, we seek good.
Truly it is our finest moments that put trophies on the shelf, plaques on the wall and ribbons on our chests. We are also shaped by the mistakes, regrets and bad decisions. We are defined by how we respond to all of those—in ourselves and in others.
And I have found that those who have chosen to live through all of that deliberately embracing God’s own mercy for themselves and showing it to others have chosen to live well.