If you did not read the poem I posted last week, you may not know that I have been struggling with mistakes that have been made by, or blamed on, leaders in my communities. I took comfort from writing the poem, but also from reading this psalm. Although I don’t view all mistakes as wickedness, because I believe they can be reversed, this psalm helped me this week.
After the psalm, I give some of my thoughts on the nature of mistakes, being a leader, what we do when we make a mistake, and what we should do when others make a mistake too.
1 Do not fret because of those who are evil
or be envious of those who do wrong;
2 for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away.
3 Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
4 Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him and he will do this:
6 He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
your vindication like the noonday sun.
7 Be still before the Lord
and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.
8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret—it leads only to evil.
9 For those who are evil will be destroyed,
but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.
10 A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look for them, they will not be found.
11 But the meek will inherit the land
and enjoy peace and prosperity.
12 The wicked plot against the righteous
and gnash their teeth at them;
13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he knows their day is coming.
14 The wicked draw the sword
and bend the bow
to bring down the poor and needy,
to slay those whose ways are upright.
15 But their swords will pierce their own hearts,
and their bows will be broken.
16 Better the little that the righteous have
than the wealth of many wicked;
17 for the power of the wicked will be broken,
but the Lord upholds the righteous.
18 The blameless spend their days under the Lord’s care,
and their inheritance will endure forever.
19 In times of disaster they will not wither;
in days of famine they will enjoy plenty.
20 But the wicked will perish:
Though the Lord’s enemies are like the flowers of the field,
they will be consumed, they will go up in smoke.
21 The wicked borrow and do not repay,
but the righteous give generously;
22 those the Lord blesses will inherit the land,
but those he curses will be destroyed.
23 The Lord makes firm the steps
of the one who delights in him;
24 though he may stumble, he will not fall,
for the Lord upholds him with his hand.
25 I was young and now I am old,
yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread.
26 They are always generous and lend freely;
their children will be a blessing.
27 Turn from evil and do good;
then you will dwell in the land forever.
28 For the Lord loves the just
and will not forsake his faithful ones.
Wrongdoers will be completely destroyed;
the offspring of the wicked will perish.
29 The righteous will inherit the land
and dwell in it forever.
30 The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom,
and their tongues speak what is just.
31 The law of their God is in their hearts;
their feet do not slip.
32 The wicked lie in wait for the righteous,
intent on putting them to death;
33 but the Lord will not leave them in the power of the wicked
or let them be condemned when brought to trial.
34 Hope in the Lord
and keep his way.
He will exalt you to inherit the land;
when the wicked are destroyed, you will see it.
35 I have seen a wicked and ruthless man
flourishing like a luxuriant native tree,
36 but he soon passed away and was no more;
though I looked for him, he could not be found.
37 Consider the blameless, observe the upright;
a future awaits those who seek peace.
38 But all sinners will be destroyed;
there will be no future for the wicked.
39 The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;
he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him. Psalm 37
We all make mistakes. Take a look at one of my French essays and it will be covered in a sea of illegible red scribble, all highlighting verbal, phrasal, idiomatical mistakes. I hate that teachers use red. Red implies irreversibility, that a mistake we made once will always be a mistake. Now, I’m not suggesting that all teachers mark in brown, like one of my old maths teachers did. But maybe not red. Because we all make mistakes. And mistakes can be reversed. If the person who makes the mistake wants to reverse it. And if they don’t then maybe it is up to us to forgive them.
Mistakes take different forms. We can make mistakes in what we say, how we say something, our actions or our deeds. Severity of mistakes vary from my grammar mistakes, to making a mistake that changes someone’s life for the worse. From forgetting to buy a birthday card or not turning up to steward a service to making a decision that isolates or contradicts a whole section of the community or your colleagues. Mistakes that are laughed about, or those that cause pain, anger and tears. Mistakes that fuel dissonance where there should only be consonant harmony. The mistakes that seem like deliberate wickedness. Admittedly, there are those mistakes which we make occasionally which turn out to have unexpected positive consequences for everybody involved. But these kind of ‘happy’ mistake are few and far between and unfortunately it is the negative mistake that I want to focus on.
Sometimes unjustly, sometimes justly, leaders tend to be blamed for many mistakes. Leader figures around me have recently, even if they had good intentions in mind, made decisions or acted in away that caused tears, anger and hurt among a community. And maybe they recognised openly what they did as a mistake, or maybe they didn’t and just deep down knew what they did wrong. Either way they knew that they made a mistake. Perhaps these leaders are being unjustly blamed for mistakes simply because they are the figurehead of an organisation . We’re all party to blame for mistakes we make as a collective body. Yet part of the role as a leader is to take on that responsibility of blame. Did anyone else watch The Apprentice (awful programme – it was half term) this week? Project Manager JD was fired because he ‘held his hand up’ to all the mistakes his team made. Yet unlike Lord Sugar, I admired him. In that board room (though not in the rest of the task) he was a true leader. He bore the blame for mistakes both he and his team had made. Because he acknowledged honestly that as a leader it was his responsibility to have failed to prevent these mistakes from happening.
Even if we’re not JD, or a leader of a business or organisation, somewhere in our lives, we are all leaders. Perhaps you lead a club, a music group, a debate team, a board if directors, a specific department in a company or school. Maybe you don’t. But we all take responsibility as leaders, even if we only identify as leaders if our own lives. And some leaders don’t just bear the blame, but are justly to blame for the hurt they cause. As a leader, all responsibility falls on you. The pressure makes it all too likely that we make mistakes in our lives. And sadly, it is all too easy as a leader to follow your own dreams, your own plans, and to leave those you work with behind. As a leader, it is all too easy to stop listening. This is, I believe, where leaders make their biggest mistakes. Because being able to listen, to grasp the opinions of a whole community and evaluate a decision is a great asset. And it is one leaders all too often ignore. As a leader, it is our duty to act in the best interests of all, to reach a consensus, accept when we are wrong, and not just carry out something because it is our own personal wish. If we continue to act for our own personal gain, and not for the benefit, health and happiness of all those around us, that is when we make mistakes that become fractures in a community. Fractures that are very difficult to heal.
Most of the time we know we’ve made a mistake. But sometimes our mistake is hidden from us and we go on believing that we’re doing the right thing, because we don’t know any different. How often have I been called Charlotte and never corrected the person throughout the duration of the evening/day because we didn’t want to offend the person who made a mistake? And it depends what the circumstance is. Of course I don’t mind being called Charlotte for an evening. But when does it get too much? When do we need to step in and say something? Often people make mistakes that spiral out of control. Intended consequences are lost in a sea of unintentional pain. This is when we have to step in. We have to say something before it’s too late. When we see that a mistake is causing pain, we cannot stand by or walk past and say nothing. We cannot sit in a community that is falling apart and say nothing. Because we are then also making a mistake. Never be afraid to find your voice. Challenge anything that seem like a mistake, before it goes too far and causes too much pain.
But what should we when we make a mistake? We feel guilty, we know we’ve done something wrong. Sometimes we say something, and we immediately know that what we said was wrong. Sometimes it takes days, weeks, months to feel the pain that we have caused. We only notice because in effect we isolate ourselves when we make a mistake that hurts others. Over time the anger we have caused, either knowingly or unknowingly, causes us to lose our closest friends, our closest colleagues. Suddenly the whole world seems against us. And we know what we have to do. Deep down inside of us, that which has been drummed into us since childhood screams out “say sorry.” But saying sorry is something no one likes doing. We have to admit that we were wrong. It takes courage, but at the end of the day it may save a community, a relationship before it’s too late. If we cannot apologise to those we have wronged, even if the wronging was unintentional, then who does that make us? So however old we are, one word, a true ‘sorry’ to all those we’ve wronged can make all the difference. The wound might not heal for a long time but a heartfelt apology begins the healing process. Without an apology from those who have wronged us, it is likely the wound will continue to bleed.
Mistakes. We all make them, because as humans we’re not perfect. None of us are perfect. The sermon I heard preached this morning covered those we call saints, living, saints in our every day lives. Those we look up to, who inspire us, our role models, those who bring light in the middle of the winter’s darkness. There are so many people I can think of who daily inspire me to be the person I want to grow up to be, the person I can potentially be, who encourage me to challenge my boundaries and who make me see a future for myself. They are my living saints. And a lot of the time we see saints as perfect. But after all our living saints are humans too. They are not perfect. And so we see our saints making mistakes. And sometimes that pains us. Deeply. Perhaps it is another occasion where our flight instinct kicks in. Perhaps we just want to run away, crack open the gin (don’t worry, I don’t drink, I’m still 16) and pour out our hearts. But this is when we have to stay. This is when we cannot go. When our saints make mistakes, we have to forgive.
Forgiving is harder than it sounds. Forgive. Such a simple word. But an action bathed in pain. For me forgiveness is like a balloon. When I am angry because someone has made a mistake that has pained me, I am like a balloon with no air in it. But I can’t live like that. So I choose to forgive. I forgive the people who bullied me. I forgive the people who think I don’t have a voice. I forgive those that tear my world apart. And each time I forgive, I blow a little more air into my balloon. And when I let go, my balloon soars into the heavens, amongst the stars. And they are forgiven, and like a simple ‘sorry,’ my wound begins to heal.
I hope that gives you something to think about over the coming weeks. The 27th November is Advent Sunday. Advent Sunday is the beginning of a new church year. A new beginning. A time to let mistakes be healed, to release our balloons to flight. A time to say sorry, and to heal the fractures in our community. A time to listen, as leaders, to those around us. A time to wait, expectantly, once again. To wait and rediscover afresh the joy that Christ’s birth brings.