As I waltzed into the UPS Store, there was a certain glee to my step and a grin to my face as after many months of long eBay toiling, it had finally sold. The “it” here is a certain fine china set gifted to me by a very generous friend as a house warming present. She had instructed me that if it wasn’t to my admittedly very picky tastes, I could sell it and use the proceeds to buy something that was. However, trying to sell a collection of fine china is like trying to sell a Ferrari. While it’s very valuable, it also means that not a lot of people have the means to buy such a luxurious product. In addition, someone has to want your specific Ferrari make, model, and year manufactured as opposed to the litany of other exotic sports car options out there. Fine china is much the same way – while it’s very valuable, that also means that few can afford it. In addition, they also must want your specific style of fine china even though there are more styles of fine china out there than there are different kinds of Pokémon.
Given all this, when a certain mostly-anonymous someone in Baltimore Maryland had the taste, desire, and resources to place her winning bid of $500.00 for the china, I was absolutely ecstatic.
Eager to relocate the china to its new owner’s abode, I approached the desk at the UPS store. The clerk asked me for the usual kinds of information and offered me selections of shipping options to choose from. After completing all the steps amidst the maze of options and slew of information-gathering, she handed me the final product: a shipping label.
“Check to make sure everything is right on there” she said in a slightly hurried tone as she eyed the growing line behind me.
I scanned over the shipping address with great detail to make sure the precious cargo would not end up at the wrong residence. I was about to hand it back to her with my seal of approval when I noticed something, there was a mistake in my return address – instead of “Cedar Grove Dr” she had typed “Sedar Grove Dr”.
While it didn’t seem like that big of a deal, I realized that unlikely events (like the Cubs winning the World Series last year) do happen and if for some strange reason the package couldn’t be delivered, it would get returned to me. In the present state of the label, an attempted return might land the package in limbo as UPS searched for this mysteriously elusive “Sedar Grove Dr”. The prospect of $500 worth of china disappearing into postal purgatory was an unpleasant enough idea to push me out of inaction over the minor mistake.
“This isn’t that big a deal, but Cedar should be spelled with a ‘c’, – like the tree” I said in as comforting and gentle a tone as possible since I didn’t want to make her feel like an idiot for such a simple mistake.
“Oh I’m sorry!” she blurted out once she saw the offending ‘s’ that currently occupied the label.
“I’ll fix that right away” she said with some visible distress as she started typing furiously at her computer.
After several minutes she had procured another label.
“Okay, now check this one to make sure everything is correct” she said while handing it to me with a certain sense of relief in her voice that her error had been rectified.
I hadn’t made it through the first line of my return address before seeing a new mistake: it now read “Cedar Groove Dr”.
“As much as I like to keep things groovy, I live on Cedar Grove Dr” I said mirthfully as I tried to use humor to abate the building sense of tension she must be feeling.
She managed a mild chuckle, but as soon as she looked at the label again to see the error, a look of disappointment washed over her face.
“I’m so sorry!” she muttered again while shaking her head in dismay and returning to her computer screen.
At this point I felt so bad for her that I found myself searching for something reassuring to say.
“I’m so sorry for all the mistakes” she said sullenly while handing me a third label.
“It’s totally okay” I responded with a smile on my face.
“I make typos alllllll the time” I said while completely exaggerating the emphasis on “all” and dragging it out to ridiculous proportions.
“My friends can barely understand my text messages and emails because I make so many of them!” I said with cheerful self-deprecation.
For the first time since our interaction began, I saw a genuine smile form on her face and the tension drain out of her disposition.
“Thank you” she said in a deeply appreciative tone.
“You’re welcome” I said with a warm smile on my face before I turned to walk towards the door.
Upon leaving, I found myself sensing that something beautiful, perhaps even slightly divine, had just occurred though I couldn’t quite put my finger on what.
The more I pondered it, I found myself ruminating on something in particular. One aspect I know about myself is that I LOVE efficiency. I like getting things done using the minimal amount of resources for the maximal result. Accordingly, things that create inefficiencies can annoy, frustrate, or anger me rather easily since it feels like they are creating waste. In this case, having someone make two mistakes absolutely created inefficiencies – I was there probably 10 minutes longer than I planned due to that. However, why didn’t it annoy or frustrate me like a usual interruption to efficiency would?
I then realized what the stunning difference was – the mistake she made (making typos) is one I have tremendous understanding for because I do it ALL the time. My emails, text messages, and other written communication are often littered with typos and even completely omitted words. It’s like my brain thinks I typed a word (or spelled it correctly) but really I didn’t and my brain just imagined it did. Even with proof reading I don’t always catch all the typos (in fact, there’s a good chance there are some typos in this piece).
Accordingly, my extreme familiarity with typos and other writing faux paus gave me tremendous understanding and consequently grace for her.
As I pondered this more, I was reminded of an interesting passage. In Exodus 34, Moses has asked God to reveal his glory to him. When God passes before Moses in Exodus 34:6, God says about himself “The LORD, the LORD, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness”
How interesting that one of the first things out of God’s mouth about himself is that he is slow to anger? Why is that though? In the past, I’ve often thought rather simplistic answers like “because he’s God” or “because he’s perfect”. While there is some credence to those, I think there’s something deeper going on here. I think the main reason God is slow to anger is because God has complete and total understanding. Think about it, one of the sundry benefits of being all-knowing is that you would know every little detail behind every mistake every person ever makes. Accordingly, every wounding you ever took, every environmental factor you had every experienced, every mental, emotional, or physical weakness or deficiency you have God knows about and he knows to what degree those things affect your actions, including your mistakes. God, more than any other being in the entire universe, has complete understanding of why you made every mistake you’ve ever made. He can respond in every single situation with “I get why you did that.” No wonder he is slow to anger – all that understanding is a powerful force for arresting anger.
As I dug into the etymology of the word understanding, I found out that it comes from Old English where “under” wouldn’t mean beneath as we think of it, but rather, “among or in the midst of”. Accordingly, a more literal translation of understanding would be “standing among” or “standing in the midst of”.
What a perfect definition. That’s exactly what God does – he stands in the midst of our mistakes, failures, and shortcomings and says “I get why you did that” as he meets us with grace. That’s what I inadvertently did with that UPS clerk as well – I stood in the midst of her mistakes and said “I totally get it” and found myself responding with grace instead of frustration.
Imagine how much better our world would be if we all tried to stand in the midst of each others mistakes with understanding rather than judgement? Imagine how many fights, arguments, and disagreements wouldn’t even materialize in the wake of such extensive grace?
What if the next time someone made a mistake with you, you choose the path of anger-arresting understanding? What if you chose to stand in the midst with someone?