We’d been driving for hours and we were tired. I pulled out my phone to find an inexpensive place to stay for the night and I saw a few options. Everything in our price range had Meh reviews so I went with the cheapest one, even though I sort of knew it wouldn’t be good. We drove into the parking lot and it was confirmed. This wasn’t going to be pretty. But I was tired and I decided to stay there anyway.
As we took the rattling elevator up to the second floor with a rough looking man and his dog, I began to seriously question my decision. We walked down the long, dim hallway, noise greeting us from nearly every room and the choking smell of cigarette smoke radiating from the walls.
We locked ourselves into our filthy room, helped the kids brush their teeth, checked for bed bugs and turned out the lights. The room was cold, dark, and noisy from the heater and the neighbors to the right, left, and above us. It smelled horrible. But we’d paid for the room and we needed the sleep before we started out on the road again the next morning. Wanda, a year old at the time, stood up in her pack ‘n play and screamed, reaching out to me and Dan in our cramped double bed. I picked her up. I sang to her. I comforted her. I laid on the stained carpet next to her and shushed her to sleep.
We didn’t get much rest. We had a horrible night. And we paid a hundred dollars for the experience. To put it mildly, we regretted the decision to stay there.
But the rough night was over. What could I do to fix the problem? I could apologize to Dan and the kids for my poor hotel choice, for not planning ahead and for not getting us out of there once I knew how gross the hotel was. I could decide never to stay there again.
What could I do to make the problem worse and ensure we stayed miserable for years into the future? I could decide that it was a tragedy that I’d chosen such a skeezy road trip hotel because since I’d chosen that hotel once, we were doomed to stay there every road trip for the rest of our lives. I could talk about how awful it was non-stop and decorate our home to match the hotel just so that every day I would remember what a bad choice I’d made. I could turn that hotel into the focus of my life.
Now that seems ridiculous, but how many times do we let our mistakes determine our entire future? Or even enough of our future to make us waste one day or one week in crippling regret? I recently said some things I regret. Stupid things. Thoughtless things. Things I thought were funny during a moment of heightened stress. I apologized to the people involved. I prayed and asked God to forgive me.
But the next day I still felt awful. How could I say those things? What did those things say about me as a person? How could my friends ever look at me the same way again? Should they ever look at me the same way again? These thoughts of shame and regret cycled through my head over and over again.
So because I was so upset about my mistake, I decided to live in that mistake for as long as possible. If it was a bad thing and I didn’t want it to be part of my life, then why did I let it take up so much time in my thoughts and in my heart? I had done everything I could to fix it… Except let it go.
By focusing all my energy on my poor choices, I was magnifying their negative effects in my life. I was decorating my house with pictures of the bad Hotel.. And I was succumbing to the inevitability of booking a room there again.
“That’s where I always stay. It sucks but I stay there.”
When you are bogged down by the things you’ve done wrong, you start to believe that you have no choice but to do them again, that it’s just the way you are, that you’re somehow defective or incapable of changing. If, after all, you spend your time dwelling on them, you aren’t changing.
Now, do I want to completely wipe the bad hotel from my memory? No. Not exactly. I want to remember it just enough at the back of my mind so I avoid going there again. I don’t want to think about it, but if the experience is buried way down deep in my brain, it can pop to the surface if I ever drive through that town again and find myself looking for a place to stay.
Next time I’m hanging out with my friends and I come to a place where I can go for a cheap laugh or speak words of love, I hope I remember just an echo of what the cheap laugh felt like and I hope I make a different choice. But for today, I need to let it go.
Today is so much bigger than yesterday’s mistakes. Today is a thousand choices waiting to be made and the first one will be to live where I am, because with the next choice I make, where I am can be a pretty beautiful place.