What to do when you mess up

I was wrong. I thought I had the moral high ground, that the other guy was way more at fault than I was, but I was wrong. I was the reason things went south, I was the reason things were as bad as they were, I was the catalyst that caused the really bad outcome.

What to do? How to get out of this burden of guilt and misery, knowing someone else’s life is worse because of me and my selfish actions?

Recognize. Nobody wants to admit they’re wrong. It means coming face to face with our own faults and failings, and they’re not pretty. We’d much rather cover them up with excuses and comparisons to other people who are much bigger sinners. But then we bump into reality and realize that we are the problem, not the other guy, that we contributed in large part to what went wrong and that in fact it wouldn’t have happened without us. Ugh.

The Prodigal Son merrily indulged in wine, women and song until one day the music stopped and he found himself empty, friendless and hungry. He had to recognize that for himself – he wasn’t willing to listen to anyone else until he hit the humiliating reality that his situation was his own fault.

King David said it best in Psalm 51, his beautiful, poignant  song after committing adultery with Bathsheba:

3 For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.
4 Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight.
You will be proved right in what you say,
and your judgment against me is just.

Repent. Once you realize you’re in a hole, stop digging. Stop eating donuts, spending money, cultivating that inappropriate relationship. Turn around and start taking steps in the opposite direction.

7 Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Oh, give me back my joy again;
you have broken me—
now let me rejoice.
9 Don’t keep looking at my sins.
Remove the stain of my guilt.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a loyal spirit within me.
11 Do not banish me from your presence,
and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.

16 You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
You do not want a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

Restore. Do as much as you can to make it right, pay it back, fix it. Apologize. Go the extra mile. Do whatever is within your power to put things back the way they should be.

Replace. Jesus said that if a man was healed of demons without replacing with something else, that new demons would rush into the clean house and he would be left worse off than he was before. Or said another way, nature abhors a vacuum. Find something to fill the void left by your inappropriate behavior. Go serve needy people. Practice gratitude by counting your blessings. Instead of eating donuts, eat fruit. Or go take a walk when the chocolate craving hits.  Instead of spending money on stuff you don’t need, figure out what need that filled (Boredom? Self esteem? Socializing?) and find a new habit to replace it.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and make me willing to obey you.
13 Then I will teach your ways to rebels,
and they will return to you.

Don’t repeat. Get yourself out of temptation’s way – don’t keep Oreos in the house, don’t go to the mall or that favorite bar. Stay away from the Home Shopping Network or online shopping websites. Unfriend that toxic person on Facebook.

The best thing about mistakes, I think, is the lessons we can learn from them. If you touch a hot stove, even if you’re told not to, you learn what to avoid. The worse the outcome, the better the lesson. Maybe one day I will have committed every mistake possible and will be wiser before doing something stupid. That’s the benefit of age and experience.