Shipwreck and Salvation

Barton and 51 acquaintances share ownership and use of a gorgeous sailboat. One week a year, they each get to take this beautiful home with sails wherever they want to go. Sometimes a few of them join together and spend two weeks, three weeks, even a month out at sea.

One dark night when Barton is sailing, the boat starts to sink. He doesn’t know why. He does everything in his power to prevent it, but it’s beyond what he can do to keep it afloat. Reluctantly, he abandons ship and watches it go down. He survives unscathed, other than the deep-seated emotional trauma of his loss.

But that’s not the end of it. Miraculously, the boat survives. It’s raised up, and repaired by experts. When it’s returned to Barton and his 51 partners, it’s actually in better shape than it was before it went down. As is often the case, this trial revealed flaws which were eliminated or reduced in the repairs which got it seaworthy again.

Time passes. Lots of time. Years, in fact.

And Barton never sails again.

Folks ask, “How come you never go sailing anymore? It was such a part of your life.”

He replies “The boat sank.”

Now, they’ve been on it recently with acquaintances and know that it’s sailing just fine. They say so.

He replies, “No, it sank.”

No matter what anyone says, he insists that that boat sank.

He’s stuck at the moment of his greatest personal loss in this relationship, and never seems able to move past his own pain and accept that the boat is not only afloat, but better than ever.

Now, while it’s rational to be cautious about sailing on a boat that sank out from under you, does it make sense to pretend that its sinking was the last thing that happened? Of course not.

And yet, when someone makes a huge, faith-shaking mistake and we choose not to forgive, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

We believe that, that day, they sank, never to be seen again. We don’t know who that is walking around in their body, but when someone says “Have you talked to them?” our response, perhaps not verbal, but emotional, is, “No, they sank.”

Shipwreck, literal or metaphorical, isn’t always final.

Find someone who sank but, miraculously, was salvaged and repaired, and take them for a spin. You may be surprised how much sturdier a craft is once it’s been properly shaken down and fitted out after a shipwreck.

When Mistakes Have Been Made

If someone doesn’t even know they made a mistake, the desired outcome is for them to realize it, and learn how not to repeat the mistake. Maybe they just needed to be aware that this isn’t what we wanted done. Maybe they need to be more careful during the process. Maybe they need skills training. When you know the outcome and focus on that, you’ll provide what they need so they can get it right from now on.

Just as often, they already know they messed up. Some of the previous paragraph still applies, but we’re going to handle it differently.

First, clarify that you both know what happened. If they say “I messed up” then consider it clarified. Otherwise, if you suspect, but they don’t volunteer, just ask. “Are you aware this isn’t what we wanted here?” Non-confrontational. Just gathering information.

Next, find out if they know where things broke down. Were they careless? Do they need help with mechanics of the task? Was something totally unrelated to the task interfering?

If they’re not sure what happened, or where things broke down, spell it out. Again, since the goal is to help them get it right from now on and not just to make them know how upset you are we do this without rancor. If that means you wait until after you’ve had lunch or taken a short walk, wait. Don’t try to manage their feelings while yours aren’t under control.

If they can tell you what happened and how to fix it, praise their perspicacity, thank them, and move on. If they already know how to get it right from now on, the lesson is already learned. You’re already at the outcome. Any more discussion is like continuing to hammer after the nail is all the way in.

If hammering is your goal, though, take that walk and eat your lunch. Take a breather and come back when you can try for the right outcome.

This all applies when it’s just you, too. Once you know what broke and why, resist the urge to hammer yourself. You’ve learned a valuable lesson. Accept it, appreciate it, and move on. More hammering still doesn’t make any sense.