The other day I was at Whole Foods with a friend eating lunch. As we sat chatting, my eye caught a young girl spill her drink and her momther’s response caught my attention. The girl was no more than 5 and was trying to put the lid on her soda, when the cup slipped out from under her, spilling the cup and its contents on the floor. Her mom looked at her, “I thought that was going to happen. Now you have to go and apologize for making a mess,” she said with disgust in her voice. The little girl looked at her mom, eyes expecting comfort and instead she was greeted with a look of embarrassment and annoyance. “Now go, go ask the person at the counter for a mop and apologize for this mess you made.” “Will you go with me?” the young girl asked? “No! It’s your mess, you have to clean it up!” The little girl found a worker who greeted her with warmth and grace. He came to the spill and cleaned it up no problem. All while her mom, apologized for her daughter and made sure he understood that she had forewarned the child about the potential mess that could have occurred.
The incident lasted at most five minutes, but it has stayed with me.
How did accidents and messes become a means for shame and embarrassment? She was a child and her hands don’t do what adult hands can do. She didn’t do something malicious or remotely sinful, but the shame was thick in the exchange.
I realized something as I watched. The mother’s response was not in response to bad behavior, rather it was that she was embarrassed. Her daughter spilling a drink brought shame upon her as she didn’t want others to be inconvenienced, to judge her, or to even notice that an accident had happened. The mom, took ownership of the child’s behavior and because her daughter spilled something, it could potentially not bode well for her.
As I sat reflecting on this experience I was reminded how we make things that are not about us, about us. I was reminded that we expect perfection from others. I was reminded that acccidents produce shame because we expect perfection. We expect people to be able to handle life without failures, mess ups or woopsie daisies. We expect that of our selves.
Where is there room for grace?
Life is full of mistakes, made not out of malicious intent, but rather, sometimes our hands aren’t able to do the most common task. Sometimes our knowledge isn’t as great as needed. Sometimes our abilities just don’t match the task given. It is in this space where we must receive grace. Grace will meet us in our imperfection and allow us to be the incomplete people we are. Humans were made to be interdependent, we were not made with every gift on purpose. We were made to need each other. We were made to grow and to learn with age…. this is a beautiful thing.
So the next time, you have an accident, make a mistake or see one made around you, give grace. Get out of your seat, pick up a mop and meet the person or yourself with a smile, warmth and give the gift that will take an accident and turn it into beauty, grace, learning and life. You’ll be so so glad you did.