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  • Maggie Wallem Rowe

When “What was I thinking?!” is Not a Rhetorical Question

Just this morning, I came across magazine advertisements from the past that are so ludicrous they seem laughable. Seriously, would you buy these products?

Whatever the marketers were thinking then, ads like these certainly wouldn't sell products now.

Have you ever mentally beat yourself up for a decision you made in the past that seems foolish or ill-advised in the present?

When you're the only person in a fight like that, you're bound to lose.

After 15 years in our former home in the Midwest, we finally repainted our living room. Constructed in 1917, the old girl was celebrating her centennial birthday and it seemed only fitting to fete her with some new cosmetics. She practically preened under her fresh coat of “First Star,” a soft grey like a twilight sky.

Someone – that would be me – had the bright idea back in the day to sponge-paint the front room a mottled egg yolk-yellow.

“What was I thinking?” I said to my husband as we admired the transformation. “The sponge-painting seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“And it was.” He shrugged. “Don’t judge the decision you made then by how our tastes have changed now.”

Practical man. And a wise one too.

Because I do that all the time.

I berate myself because my foresight is not as keen as my hindsight. I mentally criticize decisions I made years ago when factors balanced on a different scale. Is it perfectionism, fear of failure, or just plain insecurity that leads me to judge myself more harshly than I would anyone else?

Have you done that, too?

Some years ago, I had a poignant phone conversation with a young friend whose new marriage collapsed when his wife moved on to others and then moved out.

“I feel like such a failure,” he said softly. “I’m so ashamed. Why didn’t I see this coming?”

Silence stretched between us on the line. I could picture his handsome young face, drawn and grieving. I had never been in his situation, but I know what it’s like to flagellate myself for the consequences of a past decision I never would have made if I'd known what I do now.

So I spoke of the only Truth firm enough to hold us steady when life leaves us flailing for answers.

I reminded him that the God we love has shared many of his attributes with those he created, but one has been withheld: omniscience. God is all knowing; we are not (Job 31: 4; 34:21). He is not bound by time as we are (Ps. 90:4). He loved us enough to grant us our freedom to make choices. Sometimes those choices are mistaken, but a Sovereign God permits those mistakes.

Regretting a paint color? Don’t waste your time.

Sorry you didn’t look first before backing out of that parking space? Yep, it cost you.

Embarrassed that your house went into foreclosure because you bought at the wrong time? The property didn’t include a crystal ball.

Deeply lamenting that the one who pledged to love you for better or worse turned out to be the worst? It’s agonizing.

But, friend, hear me now. Yes, some of the pain we experience is self-inflicted: a product of our rebellion, impulse, or just plain foolishness. I’ve been there, done that.

And the rest? The chaos we never saw coming because we were admiring the view in one direction while that dump truck of trouble came barreling out of a blind alley?

God is omniscient. We are not. He is faithful and just to forgive the whole mess of our sins, and to clean us up from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9). So can we forgive ourselves, too?

There is disgrace in this life, yes, but there is also grace within disgrace.

The next time you’re tempted to flagellate yourself for not knowing any better or thinking more clearly, lower the whip. Focus on the one whose back was bloodied with the lash of your sin. Mine too. The whole world’s. By his stripes we have been healed (1 Peter 2:24).

Forgive yourself, friend. He already has. You did the best you could with what you knew to do at the time.

There's sheer grace in disgrace.

Adapted from This Life We Share by Maggie Wallem Rowe. Copyright © 2020. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.



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