Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. -- Hebrews 12:11
It seems to me that I have to make every mistake possible. I know that's not literally true. I don't think I will make the mistake of having an affair, or stealing something, or killing someone. But still, I make way more mistakes than I would like. I'm not talking about mistakes in balancing my budget, or mistakes in following traffic rules. I'm talking about mistakes that are caused by arrogance, judgmentalism, laziness, selfishness, or fear. I'm talking about all of the harmful things I say and do whenever I fall into these bad habits. The more time I spend thinking about faith and life, the more aware I become of how much I still have to learn.
In this Journey of Faith, I have written about some of my mistakes and the lessons I have learned from them. It dawned on me the other day that nearly every lesson I have learned came about as the result of some serious mistake on my part. And as I continue to write about them, I realize that I still make some of these same mistakes. Will I ever learn?
I wish life were easier. For it is quite painful to make these kinds of mistakes. They always hurt people. The shame and regret I feel in my spirit is directly proportional to the pain I cause other people. And making the same mistakes, doubles the pain I feel -- because then the pain and regret is mixed with keen disappointment in myself that I am such a slow learner.
Does the pain have to become excruciating before I learn not to keep making the same mistakes? Maybe. I wish I were smarter than this. But maybe this is true for other people as well. I know I'm not the only person who makes mistakes, or who makes the same mistakes. Some people learn from their mistakes, eventually, and some people never learn. Perhaps painful consequences make all the difference.
Everywhere I turn this week, learning from our mistakes seems to be the topic of conversation.
A friend was telling me about how wonderful she thought Bill Clinton's speech was at the Democratic Convention the other day. I don't like to watch the conventions -- they are usually more hype than substance in my opinion. And, I said that I could not trust anything Bill Clinton said since he was able to lie to the American people about his affair with Monica Lewinski. (You see how judgmental I can be?) Well, the next day I picked up a used copy of The New York Times at Starbuck's. On the front page was an article about Bill Clinton's work in Africa. The writer stated that, "From the Rwandan genocide and the AIDS epidemic to famine and war in Somalia, Africa stands out as a source of conflict and regret for Mr. Clinton." And that Clinton was in Africa to try to "right some of the wrongs of his presidency." (Amy Chozick, Sept 7). I was so encouraged by his efforts to help people of Africa that I got online and listened to his speech! It was impressively substantial.
Then, a few days later, another friend told me about Kofi Annan's interview on CBS Sunday Morning. I read Clarissa Ward's interview online, and learned about how much Mr. Annan regrets his failures as head of the United Nations. No matter how many good things he accomplished in health epidemics and disaster relief, he feels deep responsibility for failing to prevent genocide and bloodshed in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Syria. Ward commented, "When you look back at all the lessons that were learned from Rwanda, from Bosnia in the mid-90s, and yet here we are in 2012 in Syria, and it feels like we're back to square one." And Annan responded, "Yeah, says something about us human beings, doesn't it? Do we ever learn? Is it in our DNA to keep fighting each other?" (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-3445_162-57509058/kofi-annan-the-man-in-the-middle/)
Do we ever learn from our mistakes? Clearly some lessons are harder to learn than others. I may someday learn to stop being so judgmental, but I doubt whether all people will ever learn to stop killing one another.
What is it that makes us learn from our mistakes? Is a deep sense of regret the key? I wonder if it matters whether the regret comes from self-awareness of the harm caused or whether the regret comes from the unpleasant external consequences that result. For example, does Bill Clinton regret his mistakes because of the negativity he received from the public, or from his own sense of shame?
This question resonates with me as a parent. Someday, I hope that my kids develop an internal understanding of right and wrong on a whole host of issues. For now, however, we sometimes have to impose negative consequences in order to develop this understanding. I wish it were different, but positive reinforcements of desirable behavior are not enough motivation. My kids will sometimes continue to make the same mistakes until they "get into trouble."
This truth again became apparent this week when their progress reports came out. My kids are intelligent. But they do not seem to understand that doing little or no homework, or failing to turn in their work, is a mistake. This is not the first time this has happened. So, in addition to some serious scolding, we took away even more of their computer time (nearly all of it), and severely limited their participation in after school clubs. They were not happy about these consequences. All three went to bed in tears. But, you know what? They needed to be unhappy about this. I really hope they get the message -- soon. And I hope that someday they will regret when they fail to do their best, and not merely when they get into trouble for it.
Pain and unhappiness can be beneficial sometimes -- if we learn something good from them.
Dear God, this week has been full of lessons learned, from many quarters. Help me and my children, and everyone else, remember the pain that comes from making specific mistakes, so that we don't continue to make the same ones over and over again. Love always, Pam