You Don’t Have to Condemn Yourself For Messing Up

Kayaks on Deer Island web

It was a scorching hot day off the coast of Mazatlán. We’d been on the tour boat for over an hour. There wasn’t enough drinking water and we were all parched. By the time we got to the private island it was clear my ten-year-old son had heat stroke, but on an island that had only a bucket and privacy screen for a bathroom we weren’t exactly equipped for treating his illness. We tried to make the best of it. We had paid a lot of money for this adventure. We hydrated him a much as possible and tried to enjoy the day.

First up was kayaking in the Sea of Cortez. My husband boarded a kayak with my eight-year-old daughter and I climbed in another kayak with my heat-sick son. I’d never been kayaking before, but as soon as I sat down I was seized with doubt about my ability to have a successful experience.

Apparently, everyone else in our group had kayaked before because they all sped ahead of me and left my son and I in the distance. My upper body strength was clearly underdeveloped as I struggled greatly to try and catch up to the group. Perhaps I’d seen one too many ocean movies, for the idea of being alone on the waves in a tipsy little plastic boat made my blood race with fear. And, despite that fear, I couldn’t seem to move us forward no matter how hard I tried.

My son, being so sick, couldn’t help at all and began to dry heave over the side of the boat, which caused it to tilt. Adrenaline rushed through my body, tightening all my muscles, and hijacking my mouth as I visualized our little boat dumping over into the gigantic ocean where I had moments before seen a swarm of jellyfish. I started yelling at my son to stop tipping the boat. I must have been yelling a lot (not one of my finer mommy moments) because I was completely unaware that I had come into the sound range of the group. I was jolted back to reality when the expedition leader chastised me in front of everyone for yelling at my son. I felt completely mortified. I wanted to shrink through the bottom of the kayak and disappear into the watery abyss. My head hung in shame as I tried to hold back tears of embarrassment.

To my relief, the group again sped on. Overcome with shame, and fear, and exhaustion, my strength fully failed and we sat drifting. . . toward nowhere. I felt twenty shades of awful for my poor sweet son who was suffering in multiple ways in the seat in front of me, none of which were his fault. I just wanted to get back to shore and hid. Finally, a man in a small speed boat equipped with a rope, tied our kayak to his vehicle and pulled us to shore. The torture was over.

I still look back on that moment and wish I could erase it. We all have moments like these. The ones where we shame the word mother. The ones where we embarrass ourselves by our lack of ability, or by our weakness. The ones where we make a difficult situation worse, and where we add insult to injury. Where compassion eludes us, or fear completely rules our actions. It’s called being human. It’s part of the process of learning. Some lessons are painful, and embarrassing. Those are the best kind. They provide motivation for change leaving us with no desire to repeat them.

It’s been thirteen years since my kayaking experience, and I still have moments where fear hijacks my mouth in various situations, and I say things I shouldn’t say. But I’m better than I was then—in many ways. Progress is the important thing. And there’s no timeline for improvement. Continually trying is what matters. Thankfully there’s repentance, forgiveness, and change. Thankfully we have a God who allows us to learn from our faults, weaknesses and mistakes without being condemned by them.

Even the woman in the Bible, taken in adultery, wasn’t condemned by the Lord.  He told her to set her life straight and to go and “sin no more”.  We have that same opportunity.  We can be forgiven, correct our ways, and sin no more.  It may take time to get it perfect, but again, that’s what this life is all about.  We are learning to overcome the flesh by mastering the spirit within.  We do that line upon line, one step at a time.

A word of caution.  Don’t confuse a weakness with a sin.  Weaknesses are given to us to keep us humble and dependent on God.  It is only when we act on weakness and commit sin that it becomes sin.  Fortunately, because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we have the gift of repentance, and we can be clean and whole again.  So don’t condemn yourself for messing up.  Once a moment passes, it is in the past.  You can always be better in this moment. How beautiful is that?