Grace for the Idiot.Posted: July 30, 2012
One time, just for a few months, my schedule was a bit too ambitious. Probably other people could have handled with ease what I had signed up to do, but I knew, looking ahead, that I would be working and busy from morning til exhausted night every single day for many months, and somehow I would still need to cook dinner and do things like hug my children. I do this sometimes, this saying yes thing. I love to be involved, work hard, initiate and try new ideas, and sometimes I forget not to do all those things at one time. I have no trouble saying no to something I don’t want to do. The trouble comes because I usually want to do so many different things that I end up saying yes with abandon.
In this story, though, once I realized that I had done it again – said yes to too much – it was too late to undo it. I saw the coming busy season approaching and did what I could to prepare. I shopped, wrapped and mailed all my Christmas presents by August of that year. I hired a part-time cook to help with dinners. I organized every junk drawer and corner of my house so that there wouldn’t be any last minute scramble looking for the stapler or scotch tape as we’re rushing off to school. I wrote Sunday school lessons weeks ahead of time and gathered arts and crafts supplies for each week, stashed them in individual giant-sized Ziplocs and wrote in large sharpie letters on the bags, “loaves and fishes ” and “water into wine posters.” Seriously, I tried to make it easier. But it wasn’t easy.
Halfway through that particular overcommitted time period, my dear friend Shelly checked in with me to see what she could do to help.
(Side note: Don’t you love it when a friend approaches you to offer to help when she sees that you’ve royally screwed up being in charge of your own tiny life? She didn’t come to show me how this was all my fault and avoidable, but instead she came to see how she could alleviate my problem. The world needs fewer I-told-you-so people and more how-can-I-help-you-get-yourself-out-of-this-mess-you-created kind of people.)
I had a mini-breakdown for a few minutes as I told her all the things that were going wrong with my grand plan. I had tried to control and predict every detail, but that wasn’t working. The woman who was supposed to be helping me with dinner actually was making our lives much harder. My kids hated her food and she spent each afternoon in my home criticizing my freezer and pontificating about nutrition. The people I was supervising on a project were all doing things wrong and making each step take so much longer, and there were all sorts of spontaneous needs springing up from another assignment I was trying to finish. No matter what I had done ahead of time or what I did in the moment, each commitment appeared to be failing.
I thought that if the people involved would just do things exactly as I said to do them, all would be fine. “I just didn’t account for the idiot factor,” I told Shelly in disgust. She looked at me with such kindness as she shared her little nugget of wisdom: “Joy, the idiot factor is all that there is.”
Years later, I am still processing that response. If the idiot factor is all there is, then no matter what scenario I get myself in the middle of, there will always be idiots as key players. Maybe the only predictable aspect of any situation is that it will be filled with idiots.
Recently, I drove a long way to take a friend of my 14-year-old to an unfamiliar airport. We traversed two highways to get there and I am sure that at least one of them was planned by an idiot. The drive took longer than Siri told us it would take (Siri was an idiot that day, too!). When we finally parked in the hourly lot, I made the kids run! while dragging suitcases and stuffing iPhones into carry-ons. We approached an airline employee and asked for some assistance working out a kink. His mumbled response was so unhelpful I made him say it three times out loud in hopes that he would hear how inadequate it was. He didn’t get it, and I ran my ragged trio of kids over to the next person. She looked like she was used to being in charge, maybe a supervisor or something. She glared at me while we described our little “situation” and then gave an idiotic response. She even walked us over to another supervisor-sort and reiterated her dim-witted answer. I stormed off and placed the girl I was in charge of in the security line and tried asking one more person for help. You guessed it…. useless.
The child made it safely onto her flight and home to her mother and all is now well. Later that night I was recounting the story to my long-suffering husband and I could see him flinch each time I spewed the word “idiot.” And then I went up to another idiot to ask for help…
When I awoke the following morning I remembered Shelly’s famous line: The idiot factor is all there is.
It took a while, but eventually a bit of regret and humility entered in. All those people I crossed paths with – all the idiots – they were people trying to do their jobs. I don’t know what training they received, what pressures they face, how late they were awake holding a crying baby or working a second job, or what stories brought them this far in life. I never took even a small moment to wonder about them. I didn’t even show them basic politeness or smile while I was asking them for help. I was just a frenzied mom shouting questions at them. They could have easily thought, here is another fool, late for her plane, unaware of the rules of young people traveling alone and now because of her lack of planning, she wants me to make this into an emergency. Lady, I deal with idiots like you all the time.
What it took me a whole night of sleep to realize is that from their perspective, I was probably the idiot. I bet at least one of them went home and told their spouse all about me: And then there was this idiotic woman who was so stressed out that she couldn’t listen to my answer…
It seems perhaps we’re all just a bunch of bumbling idiots, whether we’re in charge of big teams of people or just late for a flight. We’re all susceptible to poor reactions and impulsive moves that are only wrong in hindsight. We need strangers and friends to help us out of our self-made messes, and clearly no one thrives or flourishes on judgment. We all need… grace.
My faith in Jesus sometimes can be hard for me to articulate to others. People have enough religious thumping as it is, and I don’t want to add to that noise. But here goes a big piece of my own understanding: Jesus is the haven for my idiocy. He is where I feel most welcome to let down my guard, express my many failings, and drink in the soothing, restoring grace that redeems me in my worst moments. The hope is that I’ll drink enough to share with those around me
So, the next time I think what an idiot! I hope I am able to stop myself just for a moment and remember: idiots are all we’ve got in this world. And the next time I make a bone-headed move, whether it is across a lane of traffic, a sarcastic retort to my kids, or a colossal mistake with a client, I hope the people I affect will offer grace for the idiot instead of the disgust I recently handed out.
For God so loved all the idiots….
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