It seems very easy to go from “I made a mistake” to “I am a mistake”, to snowball from “I failed at x” to “I am a failure”. The collapsing of individual moments onto the self, the reduction of core value to the outcome of actions and choices fuels this trend. It is a difficult thought process to challenge in the moment of spiral. Attempting to talk someone out of the low brought on by piling their past twenty mistakes on top of this latest one, with no pause to remember all the other moments and decisions in between, is not something often achieved by logic.
In the aftermath of these moments, I have adopted an approach of discussing the difference between the surface results of our engagement with the world, and a deeper, more grounded, less changeable worth and value as a bearer of the divine image. It is also helpful to try and identify this thought process so that perhaps its activity can be noticed in the moment.
This is not easy, and I do not have all the answers, I am also not someone who trends towards this kind of thinking – sure sometimes when I do something really boneheaded I can link my reaction to the misstep to my broader self-image, but it is not something I do all the time, and perhaps you do not either. But I offer this here because I see it regularly in students, and to be good neighbours, to be people who love and care well, we need to be forever expanding our horizons of understanding others and how they experience the world.
So perhaps this week you can try to chart your reaction and response to a mistake or failing. Perhaps you can talk with those around you about how they experience these moments. Because we are going to make mistakes, we will fail at things… but the better we are at separating external, temporal actions and their results, from our being as loved by God, the readier we will be to step out, step up, and step forward.