Thursday, May 14, 2015

Admitting Mistakes

There are books that I will not purchase and probably never read but intrigue me just the same. There is a new autobiography by British neurosurgeon Henry Marsh called Do No Harm in which he admits some of the mistakes of his long and accomplished career. The review in the New Yorker magazine includes this paragraph:

In his decades of medical practice, Marsh has been a witness or a party to almost every kind of mistake. There are errors of commission (the hubristic removal of too much tumor) and of omission (the missed diagnosis). There are errors that go unreported (after a successful surgery, Marsh might decide not to tell a patient about a close call) and errors for which Marsh is held accountable. (He writes that, after one operation, “I told them to sue me.)

The willingness to acknowledge all of this strikes me as courageous and honest and probably cathartic for Marsh. Admitting our failures is, to my mind, a sign of maturity and often grace. Yet so many of us struggle to do so, to see where we have made mistakes and to fess up.

You might argue that ministry isn't brain surgery yet what I do can make a difference in lives. Through these thirty five years of ministry I have made too many mistakes to catalogue. I have forgotten appointments with people, although that is not common. I have been unkind and unfair, usually unintentionally, but I regret it just the same. At times I have been grumpy at the wrong people and too patient with those who didn't deserve it. I have missed opportunities to provide comfort and solace, sometimes because I thought other priorities were more important, only to realize they weren't. People have died and I will never have the chance to say sorry and make amends.

I am sorry, often to the point that I feel ashamed of my sins of commission and omission and I lie awake at night ruminating about them. I am grateful for God's grace in Christ, and for forgiveness. I am also appreciative of the remarkable generosity of folk in letting go of what could be relationship changing hurts and grievances. Because of them I have a deeper appreciation of grace and I hope I am a kinder person as a result. I know I can do better.

Are you able to admit mistakes? Do you beat yourself up for the things you have done which have harmed others? Is there room for God's grace in your life?


roger said...

I wish I were more patient. I really work on it, but at the end of a busy day at work, it can be challenging.

I'm referring specifically to my being more patient with a couple members of my family.

One of my sisters has an intellectual disability, and my mother has probably had mental health issues all her life, but in the last year, has been in varying degrees of delusion. She spent 6 weeks in hospital in the Fall completely detached from reality, seeing things that weren't there, etc.

When I see them or speak with them on the phone(almost daily), I have to take a deep breath and shut my brain off, as it's still racing from work. The conversation can be challenging, but I need to remember that they are family and I love them.

So among my many faults, patience is the one I need to work on the most!

David Mundy said...

Thanks for your honesty Roger. It is so true that we often struggle with our responses to those with whom we are closest.

Now if you can deal with that habit of poking fun at clergy...