I found myself in a conversation last week, during which I made an attempt to drive home my belief that addiction is a disease. In doing so, I tried to use an example based on a real life situation of the person I was talking to and the moment the words came out of my mouth, I immediately wanted to crawl in a hole. I am pretty deliberate in making a conscious effort to speak good into people; to come from a place of empathy and compassion so when my words miss the mark and have potentially caused damage, it eats at my heart. In this case, my intention was good and my passion for the issue sincere, but my delivery missed the mark. After 4 days of it gnawing at me, I knew I had to reach out to this person, own my stuff, ask for forgiveness, hope for the best and accept that, to this person, it may be something unforgivable.
As a mama of teenage boys and a middle school PTO president, there always seems to be an abundance of reasons to have conversations about the intended or unintended harm words can cause. What typically follows is a conversation about taking responsibility for said words and delivering an appropriate apology. “I’m sorry you took it that way” isn’t an apology; it may totally sound like an apology but it’s not. It may not have been our desire to hurt someone, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t.
We can have the best of intentions and still hurt people. We can say or do something totally innocuous and because there is always one thing about a person we know nothing about, our words or actions can do damage. We can take no action, speak no words and our inaction or silence can be taken as not caring or apathetic. We can absolutely come from a place of “yes” and wanting the best and still do unintended harm. And we have to own that, not deliver the “I’m sorry you took it that way” or some version of the same.
“Did you taste those words before you spit them out?” is one of my favorite middle school mama phrases so when the “Toothpaste on a Plate” analogy came out, I found the irony of connecting something used to clean our mouths with being less than careful with our words to be so awesome! In case you haven’t heard of the analogy, the premise is that you have your child squeeze the entire tube of toothpaste onto a plate, then calmly ask them to put it all back into the tube. It doesn’t take long for them to realize it’s an impossible task at which point the frustrated kiddo is gifted with this wisdom: harsh/unkind words can’t get stuffed “back into the tube” either – once they are out, the damage has been done.
Wouldn’t it be awesome if middle school kiddos were the only ones that needed the wisdom found in a plate of toothpaste?
I reached out this weekend to acknowledge my poor choice of words and to apologize for being completely inept in trying to make my point. And then the wait began. And while I waited, I vacillated between beating myself up and trying to forgive myself. Gratefully, while this mama could have let me have it, she showed me forgiveness, grace and mercy – she could have totally given me what I “deserved”, but didn’t.
Grace is getting something you don’t deserve; mercy is not getting what you do deserve.
Heck, she went so far as to say that she hadn’t given it another thought and I shouldn’t either. It’s an incredible gift to not only be forgiven but to be told that it’s okay to forgive yourself. I can’t take back my words but can learn from them and pay it forward when I’m tasked with the opportunity to accept an apology given to me. We’re all going to mess up unintentionally; let’s be humble in asking for forgiveness, offering forgiveness when it’s asked for and forgiving ourselves in the process. Be good to each other and yourselves this week; the world, our kids and ourselves could use it. ♥