When “What was I thinking?!” is not a rhetorical question

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After 15 years in our present home we recently repainted our living room. (That would be the royal we as Mike did all the work.) Built in 1917, the old girl is celebrating her centennial birthday this year and it seemed only fitting to fete her with some new cosmetics. She’s practically preening under her fresh coat of Sherwin-William’s “First Star.”

Someone – that would be me – had thought it was a good idea back in the day to sponge-paint the front room a mottled egg yolk-yellow.

“What was I thinking?” I said to Mike the other day as we admired the transformation. “The sponge-painting seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“And it was,” he shrugged. “Don’t judge the decision you made then by how our tastes have changed now.”

Practical man. And a wise one too.

Because I do that all the time. I berate myself because my foresight is not as keen as my hindsight. I mentally criticize decisions I made years ago when factors balanced on a totally different scale. Is it perfectionism, fear of failure, or just plain insecurity that lead me to judge myself more harshly than I would anyone else?

Several years ago I had a poignant phone conversation with a young relative whose new marriage collapsed when his wife moved on to others and then moved out.

“I feel like such a failure,” he said softly. “I am so ashamed. Why did I not see this coming?”

Silence stretched between us on the line. I could picture his handsome young face, drawn and grieving. I had never been in his situation, but I know what it’s like to beat up on myself for the consequences of a past decision as evaluated by present knowledge.

So I spoke of the only Truth firm enough to hold us steady when life leaves us flailing for answers. I reminded him that the God we both love has shared many of his attributes with those he created, but thankfully one has been withheld: omniscience. God is all knowing; we are not.[1] He is not bound by time as we are.[2] He loved us enough to grant us our freedom – our terrible freedom – to make choices. Sometimes those choices are mistaken, but a Sovereign God permits those mistakes.

Regretting a paint color? Don’t waste your time. Sorry you didn’t look first before backing out of that parking space? Yep, it cost you. Embarrassed that your house went into foreclosure because you bought at the wrong time? The property didn’t include a crystal ball. Deeply lamenting that the one who pledged to love you for better or worse turned out to be the worst? It’s agonizing.

But friend – hear me now. Yes, some of the pain we experience is self-inflicted: a product of our rebellion, impulse, or just plain foolishness.

And the rest? The chaos you never saw coming because you were admiring the view in one direction while that dump truck of trouble came barreling out of a blind alley?

God is omniscient. We are not. He is faithful and just to forgive the whole lot of our sins, and to clean us up from all unrighteousness.[3] So why can’t we forgive ourselves even a little?

There is disgrace in this life, yes, but there is also grace within disgrace.

So the next time you’re tempted to flagellate yourself for not knowing any better or thinking any clearer, lower the whip, won’t you? Think about the one whose back was bloodied with the lash of your sin. Mine too. The whole world’s. By his stripes we have been healed.[4]

The sheer grace in disgrace.

And that’s what I’m thinking today.

[1]Job 31: 4,21; 37:16; 42:2

[2] Ps 90:4

[3] 1 John 1:9

[4] I Peter 2:24