“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us.”
When I think of poetry in motion, I think of Olympic hurdlers running their race, truly the beauty of form in motion. It is not surprising that one of St. Paul’s favorite analogies is that of a runner running the race so well as to cross the finish line of union with Christ Jesus. Calling that image to mind I have asked myself the question: But what if the runner stumbles?
With good reason we place a good deal of importance on achieving excellence and success. Yet while striving for success we may unintentionally neglect to prepare ourselves, or even to teach others, how to recover well from our mistakes. Recognizing that how we rebound, correct, and recover from our mistakes and failures is of crucial importance, we dedicated this issue to insights into understanding our mistakes and how to recover from them. It could also be analogous to stumbling into or because of sin and how we enter into the process of reparation and reconciliation.
A. The Four Types of Mistakes.
In an article about mistakes, Eduardo Brice.o of Mindset Works, notes four types of mistakes, that while varying in intentionality, all have the potential of giving us an opportunity to learn from them. His insights remind me of a meme I once saw that said: “I don’t lose; I learn.”
The first type of mistakes he proposes are called “Stretch Mistakes”. These happen when we’re working to learn something new and expand our current capabilities. These are positive mistakes and there are many reasons to want to make them because they imply essential growth. Here, we’re not trying so much as to do something incorrectly, but rather trying to do something that is not a part of our current experience or skill set, so we’re bound to make some errors as we learn. Perhaps we’ve been assigned to a parish with numerous facility issues and do not understand electricity as much as we would like, leading to additional damage. It is fair to say that Stretch Mistakes can be positive; if we never made them, it would mean that we would never truly be challenged to learn new knowledge or skills. Think of the first time you decided to paint a room yourself and were faced with the challenge of painting nice crisp edges. No doubt your later attempts were better than your first.
Next for consideration are “Aha-moment Mistakes”; they too are positive mistakes. However, they are more challenging to strive or plan for because they happen when we achieve what we intended to do but later realize that it was a mistake because of some knowledge or nuance we lacked which has now become apparent. They could be a matter of having made false assumptions or misreading data. Once the epiphany of the mistake becomes apparent and the light comes on in our minds, we can go back and correct the error. Consider how we came to learn that not all size 9 ½ shoes fit the same way.
A third type of mistake could simply be called “Sloppy Mistakes”. These happen when we complete wellrehearsed and well-known activities that end in error due to distraction. These are opportunities to enhance or reexamine our focus, process, environment, or habits. Sometimes Sloppy Mistakes can become Aha-moment Mistakes. For example, I become frustrated with myself for struggling to stay awake during afternoon meetings only to realize that I simply need to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep.
The last type of mistake we invite for consideration are “High-stakes Mistakes”. These are those types of errors we most want to avoid because they can be detrimental or even catastrophic. Here we want to put processes in place to minimize these types of mistakes. Think of how an Easter Vigil Mass could be ruined if we failed to adequately coordinate the preparation of the paschal fire.
To be clear, not all mistakes are created equal, and they are not always desirable. In addition, learning from mistakes is not all automatic. In order to recover from them appropriately, we need to reflect on our errors and learn from them. If we’re more precise in our own understanding of our mistakes and in our communication with others, it will increase mutual understanding, a sense of team buy-in to goals, and efficacy for both leaders and those in our charge to lead.
B. Hiding Mistakes and Shame.
God has revealed through His sacred scripture that He created man in His own image and likeness (Gn 1:27); that image and likeness was eventually revealed as Love itself, specifically as agape (1Jn 4:8). Man is then inherently ordered towards the cultivation, reception, and manifestation of agape, the total gift of self-type of love. However, shame is the direct antagonist of this ability to give of self: shame isolates, alienates, and degrades the person it envelopes. Whereas Love calls for communion, validation, and remembrance of one’s identity as a son or daughter of God. Shame leads an individual into perpetuating cycles that keep them prisoner to their own fears and the coping mechanisms they use to handle those fears. On the other hand, love leads an individual into vulnerability, where he can be freed of those burdens, of limitations and shortcomings, through his entrustment of these burdens to another trusted person. This trusted person is then able to validate, support, and recall that for which the individual was made.
I want to be clear that the shame discussed in this article is psychological shame, differing from the theological/existential shame described in St. John Paul II’s sermons on Theology of Body. The shame described by St. John Paul II, is ordered for man (specially Adam and Eve) to reflect upon that which he lost, the ability to have an unadulterated, self-gifted relationship with God. Rather, psychological shame is rooted in the belief that due to one’s limitations/ failures/ sins, which are all forms of a mistake, that he has inherently disqualified himself from the need to have connection, love, and belonging (Brown, Rene 2015). This mentality keeps the individual from seeing that though he has not acted in accordance with the image for which he was made, that he has not destroyed that inherent image and its orientation towards love and connection.
An example of this perpetuating self-destruction that shame can have on the person can be seen in the personal struggles that individuals can have around pornography. The person watching pornography gets an immediate release of endorphins that aid in the person calming or regulating himself when he is bored, anxious, stressed, lonely, or rejected. Though there is an immediate relief, this relief is typically short-lived, and is followed by self-shaming thoughts and attitudes about what the person did. Thoughts such as “I am a horrible person for having done this; I will never be capable of real love; I will never be able to live without it.” The danger of shame is that it primes the individual for despair: I am incapable of ever being able to love/ being saved due to my sin. These thoughts lead to the formulation of implicit excuses (I can watch this though it may contain nudity) or explicit excuses (what does it matter/ I had a hard day, I deserve this) to watch pornography at the next critical moment. These thoughts start the cycle over again and if left unattended, this can develop to a point where the person creates a feedback loop; that in order to cope with the shame he created, the only resource he has is the pornography that caused it in the first place. There is an important distinction to be made between the concepts of guilt and shame. As mentioned above, shame is a negative judgment statement about one’s intrinsic value, being seen as an object/subject disconnected from love and belonging. Guilt, however, focuses on the behavior being inappropriate or unhelpful. This is not an identification of how wretched a person is due to the behaviors taken. Using the example from above, guilt would translate to a thought such as, “looking at pornography is not how God created me to express my sexuality, I should look for better ways to cope.” In sum, guilt means what we did was bad, and shame means who we are is bad. There are three factors that optimize the environmental conditions for the cultivation of shame, they are: secrecy, silence, and judgment. Secrecy is tied to the idea that “if someone were to discover what happened, I would be seen as unlovable.” Silence promotes the idea that “I am the only one who has struggled with this situation, I must be utterly forgiven to what it means to be human.” Judgment is connected to the fear that “what I experienced would result in my personhood being attacked (physically or emotionally).” All three of these elements inhibit one’s ability to trust in others and God.
C. Recovering from Mistakes.
Oscar Wilde is quoted as saying, “Experience is the name we give to our mistakes.” In the midst of a mistake, it is never easy to admit where we went wrong or that we can recover and learn from it. While everyone recovers from mistakes in different ways, there are four steps that are agreed to be necessary to learn from our mistakes:
1. Acknowledge the mistake.
2. Apologize and try to fix it.
3. Accept that there will be consequences.
4. Reflect on the situation and know you are not alone.
A practical application of the remedies would be to find good people with whom you can be accountable in both professional and personal areas of your life. An accountable person would need to be someone who could offer support and encouragement to you as you journey through life. They also can rejoice with you in the triumphs you fulfill, as well as be a refuge in a time of struggle. This will look different from one accountable person to another depending on what area of one’s life he is being attentive. In a professional setting for priests and deacons, it could be good to have another colleague or priest who you look up to, who can offer guidance on how to approach difficult situations that arise. In your personal life, having a friend that you can share your more personal struggles with (either of sin or emotions) can be a huge blessing, and a tool for disarming shame.
The good news is that there are remedies that help promote a healthier sense of looking at yourself and the world. The first is to talk to yourself like you would talk to someone you love. This even has links to the Bible when our Lord taught “Love your neighbor, as yourself” (Mk 12:31). If you find this is not an easy task to do, a good place to start is to reflect on a person you love, and then ask yourself how you would approach him if he shared with you that he had your same struggles. The second remedy is to reach out to someone you trust. It is not wise to just share one’s intimate struggles with just anyone, it needs to be with an individual who can hold your struggle while recalling to mind that for which you are made. The devil wants to keep people isolated because it is easier to sow doubt about who we are when we do not have anyone who can reaffirm our identity as a son of God, especially when we may not act like sons of God. The last remedy ties in with the second which is to tell your story. Sharing your struggle with trusted individuals can be one of the greatest blessings and experiences of God’s mercy. It helps remove the burden of this struggle off just yourself, and now you find that a friend or close colleague is yoke beside you as you try to make sense of that story. True connection and vulnerability are the antidote to shame.
In conjunction with what was discussed above in regard to the 4 mistakes a person can make, here are some practical tips to handle each situation. In situations where one is attempting to grow in an area he is not familiar with, like in case of stretch mistakes, it can be beneficial to share with a more experienced person, who could offer reflections on areas that an individual may not be able to see. For example: reaching out to a professional building project manager, when attempting to begin a renovation project at the parish. When someone experiences an Ahamoment, it can be hard to acknowledge and take responsibility for it. Sharing these mistakes and the knowledge learned is vital for displacing shame, as well as the listener who hears the mistake as they can grow in knowledge as well. For example: A priest or deacon uses a homily resource that resonates with him but learned that no one in the congregation was able to connect or follow the resource. Scenarios where an individual is making sloppy mistakes (actions he should know how to do correctly but fails) are important to be acknowledged and reflected on, as they provide insight into areas of one’s life that need reviewing, such as one’s health, rejuvenation, and boundaries around work. For example: a priest who is attentive to his flock, but has not had a time to rest in several days after attending to several night calls in a row, leads the priest to struggle to be focused in the meetings and forgets important information that was discussed, rather than admit his limitation to another member on staff, and request either a short follow-up summary of the meeting later while he rests or rescheduling the meeting for a future date. High mistakes are the most important to disclose because these typically have the strongest pull to shame, but they are also the most difficult to disclose. The first important thing is to disclose what happened to proper entities and people where appropriate. Whether that be to the boss or supervisor/ counselor. It is important to explore what happened with trusted individuals who can help remind you of God’s mercy and the importance to continue fighting after what it means to love. Ex. I drank too much at a church party and kissed one of the guests later in the night. Though it may be difficult and the consequences hard to face, telling this to a trusted individual and reporting it to a supervisor is an important step in countering the shame and despair that can follow such an event. If there is not a clear protocol on how to handle high mistakes in your diocese, I encourage you to reach out to your deanery and/or bishop to seek consultation on how to navigate such situations when they arise, either for oneself or for a fellow clergyman.
It is important to disclose one’s mistakes to other trusted and appropriate individuals, because it allows one to break the power that these events have over his life. As Christ said, He has come to set the captive free (Is 61), and it is truth that does so (Jn 8:32). This truth is that all people are meant and oriented for the communion, belonging, and intimacy with God and one another. His commandments guide us to know and understand what this loving relationship ought to look like. However, our failure to live these commandments out does not automatically execrate this indelible orientation of the heart for love. Though, that person does possess the power to deny and refuse to recognize this truth, and even live a life contrary to this orientation. Nonetheless, a person will always be meant for connection, belonging, and love. These longings of the human heart are integral to fighting off shame, as they have us reach for someone who can remind us of that in the midst of whatever mistakes we may find ourselves, we are His son whom He loves and for whom He has freely given His life.
Please join us for a video conference on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, from 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm, where a member of Holy Family Counseling Center Good Shepherd’s Wellness Council will facilitate discussion on this month’s content. These sessions will be nonintrusive and will simply be an opportunity for brother priests to discuss and ask questions. To sign up and receive a link for next week’s call, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Our facilitator will email you a link to the call the morning of the meeting.
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Provided by the therapists of Holy Family Counseling Center. This newsletter and follow up video conference are meant as a resource to assist our beloved clergy to maintain their emotional health and holiness as servant leaders of the Church. Our sincere and prayerful desire is to assist our priests to stay happy, healthy, and holy.