I made a mistake recently. Not a huge one. I might have made a friend angry; at the least, I annoyed her a great deal, but I'm pretty sure she is still my friend. I didn't mean to annoy or anger her. I made some assumptions that were faulty, and I greatly inconvenienced her. I felt horrible afterwards. I apologized at the time and will likely apologize again the next time I see her. But I felt horrible.
Really horrible. I couldn't let it go. My stomach was in knots for hours afterwards. I kept thinking about what I did and how I wished I could undo it - make different choices that would have led to a less awkward situation. I tried to put it behind me - I couldn't fix it. What was done was done. But still, I stewed. I kept kicking myself over and over and over and over as if I had to punish myself for a certain block of time before I could absolve myself. The stewing was like my penance. I was paralyzed by this situation and my guilt.
When I thought about it, I realized it wasn't as bad as I was making it out to be. I didn't physically injure this person, I didn't say something hateful. I inconvenienced her - my timing was really bad. But that was the extent of my sin - bad timing, inconvenience, unintentional thoughtlessness. But the feeling of failure and deep guilt were like I had done something grievous.
No matter how rationally I could think through the situation, I couldn't move past it. Finally I started writing it all down. I had only a small piece of paper, so I just wrote and wrote, on both sides, over the print that was already on the paper. When I filled every space, I wrote over my own writing again. I wrote my actions and the consequences and my guilt and then I just wrote "guilt," and "failure" over and over and over again. I don't know that anyone else could have read what was on that paper when I was done. It felt good to get it out of myself and onto paper. Then I tore that paper into little pieces and threw it in the trash. Finally, I felt like I had released some of that guilt.
Isn't that weird? That an error in judgement could grab hold of me so tightly that I couldn't let it go? I know I am a perfectionist. I've blogged before that I have a self-concept that says I only matter when I get things right. This was some sort of super-sized example of that. I didn't get this situation "right," and it meant I was a complete, irredeemable failure. I don't know if this was a spiritual exercise in forgiveness or fighting perfectionism - something that God is going to have me dealing with over the next few months - or if it is just a sign of fatigue that comes at this time of year. Whatever it is, I am hopeful that I can deal more healthily with my failures in the future.