Human beings constantly disappoint me.
I don’t mean to feel disappointed. In fact, I don’t expect that much out of most people, because I know human nature all too well. But I find myself having higher expectations for some people. And it hurts me when I’m disappointed.
I found out at dinner tonight that a friend has been cheating on his wife. I didn’t even know that my dinner companion knew this guy, but his name came up and she filled me in on some disturbing developments in his life. There were apparently multiple women involved before the cheating was discovered. His wife and children now know about it. A divorce is pending.
This is someone I thought I knew. I thought I knew his values. I thought I understood his priorities. But it appears I was wrong.
The news upset me enough that the rest of our dinner was a blur. Part of me wanted to feel outrage, but I realized it was mostly the hurt of disappointment. I was disappointed that someone I’ve respected didn’t live up to my expectations.
After I was alone later in the evening, I stopped at a store. I pulled into a parking place and just sat there for a few minutes. I just watched the people around me and tried to get to the root of my emotional reaction.
After a few minutes, I suddenly realized what a hypocrite I am.
I don’t mean I’m a hypocrite because I’ve cheated on a wife, too. In fact, that’s something I feel so strongly about that I feel certain it could never be an issue for me. When I’m committed to a woman, I’m 100 percent committed. If I’m in a romantic relationship and something needs to change, I take the difficult step of ending the relationship — and then I can move on to someone else.
I’m a hypocrite, though, because I’m willing to judge someone for his sin which has become public — even knowing that I have sin of my own which is hidden.
I can point an accusing finger at my friend for what is public, even though I know I would be worthy of fingers being pointed at me if all of my secrets were laid bare for all the world to see.
I like to think of myself as an honest and truthful man. That’s almost always true. But I know the times when I’ve lied.
I like to think of myself as trustworthy and ethical. That’s almost always true. But there was that time when I stole something and never got caught.
I know the secrets of my heart. I know the words I’ve said and the actions I’ve taken which would humiliate me if they became public. I know the things which I would hate to confess to someone who loves me, not because they had been sins against her, but because I would be admitting to the darkness in my own heart.
I want to put people onto pedestals. I know better, at least intellectually, but I have an emotional need to believe some people are truly good. I want to believe some people won’t disappoint me.
But it turns out that everyone I love and respect is hopelessly human.
In Christian scripture, the Gospel of John tells the story of Jesus facing a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. Some Pharisees brought her to Jesus as he was teaching and asked what should be done with her. They were trying to trap Jesus. They reminded him that the law of Moses said the woman should be stoned to death. They wanted Jesus to either violate his teaching of love and forgiveness — by condemning the woman — or to violate the law of Moses — by saying she should be set free.
But Jesus ended up saying to the men, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
As the men realized the implication of what he was saying, they started backing off and disappearing into the dust, leaving Jesus and the woman alone. He asked her whether there was anyone left there. She said there were none left to condemn her.
“Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus said. “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
Jesus didn’t condemn the woman. He also didn’t justify her and tell her to return to her sin. Both of them knew what was right. Both of them knew what she needed to do. Jesus just told her to forget the dead past and start over.
I’m not perfect and I’ll never be perfect. I’ve dealt with the private sins which I know are in my past. I’m glad they’re not public, but I know they’re there. I’ve tried my best — each time when I’ve made such mistakes — to put the past behind me and start over.
My friend who has cheated on his wife and destroyed his family deserves the same grace, at least from me. Maybe his wife can’t give him that. I understand why. Maybe his children can’t give him that forgiveness and grace. I understand that, too.
But from the rest of us, the core of the Good News that Jesus preached is that we can all be forgiven. We have to learn to fix the mistakes we’ve made — even when the fixes are messy and painful — and then we need to learn to move forward in love.
People are going to continue to disappoint me. I’m going to continue to disappoint others. Human beings are broken in these awful ways that cause us to sometimes hurt each other.
To the best of our ability, we need to learn to forgive the hurts and give grace to those who need it. And we need to remember that we always need forgiveness and grace just as much as those we want to condemn, even though we forget that.
We are both sinners. We are both created in the image of God. We are both loved. We are both worthy of forgiveness and grace.
Let’s remember all these things. And let’s learn to love each other instead of being there to accuse one another all the time.