Yes, grace. And, accountability. [for ourselves]
How to hold ourselves to standards in the future without dragging along the baggage of past mistakes.
Most weekday mornings I wake up early. I set my alarm for the same time, regardless of when my first appointment is, and I have a routine: gym, shower, coffee, Bible study, journaling. If the idealistic side of me had all the control, that "most" would be "all." But, we all have multiple internal forces pulling for their own way, and there's also the self-serving, always-looking-for-the-easy-way-out side of me. That side won this morning, as it does now and then, and I've been battling between guilt and justification all day.
Maybe for you it's not the battle with the alarm clock, but it's something else you know you want to do that you fail to do consistently: being patient with a sibling, turning in homework on time, or showing up at the gym. If we set a goal, and it's a worthwhile goal that challenges us, we are guaranteed to fail at some aspect of it. If we set a goal that we achieve with 100% accuracy, every time, it’s probably not a tough enough goal. Nobody really enjoys failure, though, and we're left with some combination of these two reactions: giving ourselves grace by justifying the failure ("I was tired this morning, so sleeping in was good." "I had a hard day at school, and I can't expect myself to be in a good mood when my little sister is just plain obnoxious when I get home.") or holding ourselves to the standard we set, often berating ourselves for falling short ("You can't even wake up to an alarm? How do you expect to be successful at anything else if you fail at the first thing you do each day?" "You know you shouldn't snap at your sister; having a bad day doesn't excuse unkindness. You're a terrible human.")
So which is right? Do we give ourselves grace, or do we hold ourselves accountable? Let's look at either extreme.
If we give ourselves too much grace, we may gradually slide back into bad habits. Our present self might be grateful, but our future self will have deep regrets. Yes, sometimes life gets in the way of a perfectly consistent morning routine; but life gets in the way of a lot of things that are worthwhile. Should that stop us from seeking to maintain healthy habits when we can? If we know we can be kind and patient even if we don't feel like it, are we being all that we can be by letting ourselves give in to our short fuses? Small habits compound, and they're easier to start now than they are in ten years from now. By giving ourselves too much grace now, we set up our future selves for failure and difficulty because the cost of giving up is a debt we’ll likely pay for the rest of our lives.
If too much grace is pleasant for our current self and unpleasant for our future self, then too much accountability is the other way around: we make ourselves miserable in the moment when all we do is point out our own insufficiencies. We may create a better future by being consistent (whether in health habits or otherwise), but if we're in a constant state of dissatisfaction with our performance for every little misstep, we won't even be able to enjoy that future state as much as we could. Yes, maybe you went to the gym five days a week for twenty years, but you hated every minute of it because you did it to be hard on yourself, not to take care of yourself. Maybe you missed a few days here and there, and that made you hate it even more when you went back because you felt guilty for the days you didn't go.
Grace for the past, accountability for the future
What's the sweet spot in the middle when it comes to grace and accountability? I think we can parse it out this way: when we mess up, we give ourselves grace for what's too late to change. Not that we free ourselves from responsibility; if someone else was hurt in the process, we're not off the hook for apologizing and making it right. But, once we've learned the necessary lesson from our failure, we get back up and remember that we're humans, and humans mess up. Next time, though? We use the grace of the past to fuel the accountability of the future. I slept in and I was behind on my work all day, but screaming internally at myself doesn't help my productivity. Instead, I remember now I've had more rest, and I'll still hold myself accountable for getting the work done that needs to get done today. And, I'll have extra motivation to not hit the snooze tomorrow.
Pursuing worthwhile goals isn't easy; that's why they're worthwhile. When we fall, we forgive ourselves for the sake of moving forward. We give our past selves grace so that we can hold our future selves accountable; this is how we keep our feet unwaveringly on the right path towards a more meaningful future.
What’s one area in which you want to hold yourself more accountable? Let us know in the comments or on social media by tagging @miriamrosah and @nffaevp and using the hashtags #EmbracingComplexity and #FFA21.