Mistakes make us

Published 12:48 pm Saturday, August 12, 2017

by Nathan Decker

“You don’t make mistakes, mistakes make you.” says Harriet Lauler in the movie “The Last Word.”

The character is played by Shirley MacLaine who spits out the line with the humility of a peacock in full strut.  In our context — a world of alternate truths and personal pursuits of self-affirmation — we need to be reminded of our mistakes and the benefits that they give us in life when we, in a spirit of confession, own them. Accomplishment teaches us nothing close to the greatest lessons; our unsurpassed lessons come from royal blunders. As my shop teacher fondly reminded us, “I went to the school of hard knocks, I wasn’t a good student, but I got great experience points.”

Listening to God’s story in the Bible, a pattern emerges. God looks over the straight “A” students, the best speakers, the most competent leaders, and the fittest athletes. The imperfect are given the task of sharing God’s perfect plan of salvation. Moses stutters his way through the Exodus. Charismatic Judge Deborah leads God’s armies to victory. Gideon’s army is too big. Shepherd boy David becomes king. Peter can’t keep his foot out of his mouth, and Paul kills martyrs only then to become one. Even Chloe’s gossip spurns the beautiful 1 Corinthians letter. God doesn’t waste any of our decisions; even mistakes are places the Lord whispers love and opportunity into our lives.

Our mistakes make us. It is in our pubescent yelling out obscenities at our parents that we come to realize their refection of God’s unconditional love. That awakening after an all-out bender helped us realize our self-limitations and lack of temperance. Our first break-up because we didn’t fulfill the expectation, the job we lost due to our lack of punctuality, and those words we said but could not pull back from the ears of our beloved: mistakes make us.

Mistakes shape who we are, who will become and what risks we are willing to take. From the earliest bad choice of putting your hand on the hot stove to that night you forgot protection and suddenly realized you were going to be a parent. When we slip up and trip up we are experiencing the grace of life’s unexpected opportunity for blessing. Making a decision with risk often grows more than playing safe in the land of indecision or following the status quo.

As a parent, my greatest hope for my children is in their mistakes. As I pray for them, I tell them, “Make new mistakes — don’t just repeat mine.” I think this is our Lord’s hope for us.

When Adam and Eve muddled into eating the fruit of knowledge of good and evil, it was a felix culpa, a happy mistake. What we call a fault and within our gaffes, God sees an avenue to deeper relationship with us. God’s power takes our worst decisions and folds them into the Lord’s ever shaping salvation of the world. The Apostle Paul was quite aware of this as he wrote to the Romans, “We know that in all things, God works for the good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose.”

We don’t make mistakes; mistakes make us. The biggest mistake Jesus ever made was going to Jerusalem talking about God’s kingdom and pushing change to the religious leaders. Roman rule would not just stand by and let this preacher keep teaching treason. The leaders of the faith would not stand to be embarrassed by this upstart from Nazareth. Life will give us crosses to carry. When Jesus received his, he welcomed it. Through God’s transforming power, the cross of Good Friday became the lilies of Easter Resurrection. When we err, let us own it, so we may rise through it. After all, that’s what Jesus did and would have us do.

NATHAN DECKER is the pastor of High Street United Methodist Church. Contact him at 562-3367 hsumc@beldar.com.