“Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy” – Proverbs 28:13
I was wrapping up class with the youth group one Wednesday evening, when I noticed one of the church’s elders heading directly for me. I could tell by the look on his face that we were about to have a talk, and I was fairly sure I knew what this talk would be about. You see, like many young youth ministers—this was actually my first summer in full-time youth ministry—I had made an error in judgment, and a couple of parents were rightly upset with me. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say it entailed an incident involving a three-man water balloon launcher I had brought to church camp the previous week.
As he was wrapping up his encouragement to me to do better in the future, and giving me some advice about what I could do to try to patch things up in the present, he spoke these words: “I think you’re just going to have to eat some crow…”
Eat some crow? How will that change anything? And where would I even go to buy crow? Or maybe he expected me to hunt down this black-feathered bird on my own; we were in the hill country of West Virginia after all, and people had been known to do stranger things. I may be embellishing my thought processes a bit, but the truth is it did take me a second or two to realize he was using an expression I wasn’t familiar with. I learned later that evening, that when you eat crow, you swallow your pride, which may not taste all that good, and choose to admit you were wrong.
This often involves a willingness to have difficult conversations with people who may be rightfully angry with you over something you have said or done.
I’d like to tell you I accepted his wise advice and went immediately to the parents who were upset with me, but that’s not what happened. Days went by, and it seemed like each sunrise brought with it new excuses to avoid the conversations I knew I should have. With each new excuse my resolve to talk with those I had offended diminished.
Maybe you have found yourself in a similar situation. No one actually wants to eat crow, literally or figuratively. When faced with the choice to swallow pride and admit a mistake, or avoid the problem and hope it just goes away, our natural inclination is often to choose the latter.
The trouble is that problems don’t typically just go away, and while eating crow is unpleasant, eating the old, stale, rotten crow of a problem left unaddressed is even worse.
In case you are wondering, I did eventually ask for forgiveness, but by the time I did my apology didn’t mean nearly as much as it would have, had I acted quickly. My unwillingness to act cost me with these parents. Over the years I have found that it is much better to eat fresh crow, than allow it to spoil further. Good leaders will embrace this truth even though it is a difficult one. When you make a mistake, own up to it early. When forgiveness is needed ask for it quickly.