mistakes can be wonderful

You know how people say, “you have to walk before you can run”?  Before you walk, you have to fall on your butt.  A lot.  This is something that I’ve written about before, but usually in the context of art.  Before you paint the Sistine Chapel, you’re going to have to paint a lot of duds.  Yet, art isn’t the only place where that rule applies.  It applies in life as a whole.  Sometimes in order to learn how to be a good parent you have to realize the areas where you’ve been a bad one.  Sometimes to learn how to be a good employee you have to make mistakes and learn why and how not to make them again in the future.  To learn how to study well you have to, at times, fail at studying.  It’s a process, a long and complicated process we get started in from birth.  Trial and error, trial and error.  How do babies learn how to talk?  How to get what they need?  How to get from A to B?  How to get food into their mouths?  How to get a reaction from Mom and Dad?  Trial and error, trial and error.  Trying everything until they find the one thing that works.  Trying what they know and making mistakes, making mistakes, growing and perfecting.

We have to make mistakes.  We have to give ourselves permission to make mistakes, and we have to give others the right and choice to do the same.  One of the things that has always bothered me the most about living with other Christians is the fact that you inevitably have that one person who thinks they know how to keep everyone else from messing up their lives.  Talking to that person can sometimes start to sound like instant replay.  “Why did Jane do that?  That was such a mistake.  Oh, Bill, you really shouldn’t do that.  That would be bad.  And what was she thinking?  Why would he do that?  If only someone would listen to me.”

Well, they shouldn’t.  God created them to be a self-directed person, and you’re trying to steal their direction.  You’re trying to steal their choices.  Even if their choice is wrong, clearly wrong, spelled out in the Bible wrong, their choice is their gift from their creator.  And they need to make it.  If they never make their own choice, their own mistakes, how will they learn to listen to their conscience?  If they try to avoid mistakes by listening to others all they are learning is to trust your voice more than the one God put inside of them.

“But what if they keep sinning until the day they die?”

That question tells me several things.  First:  It tells me you don’t trust other people, which is sad.  Other people are God’s creation and he made them to do good works.  You need to trust that his creation is good, because he said that it was good and he doesn’t lie.  Second, it tells me that you don’t trust God.  You don’t trust that the things he made are good and you don’t trust that he is powerful and capable of ministering to those who seek his ways.  If someone is seeking to follow him and make right choices, then he will be there for them.  Third, it tells me that you may be confused about your role.  It isn’t your role to convict other people in their sins.  Yes, if you see someone reaching for a hot burner, warn them.  But unless they are a toddler don’t pull their hand away.  It’s their hand, and they have the right to burn it.  If you warn them and they get burnt they will receive conviction that you told the truth.  (Trust me.)

Even when it’s not sin, respect the fact that people can and must and will make mistakes.  They will marry the “wrong” person, they will have kids too young, they will go to the wrong school, they will accept the wrong job offer, they will dye their hair an awful color, they will wear clothes that embarrass them, they will flirt badly, they will watch horrible television, they will eat food that is awful for them, they will read bad books and tawdry magazines, they’ll invest in the wrong places, they’ll forget to save for retirement, they’ll party instead of studying, they’ll waste time on Facebook, and they’ll pay too much for cable television.  They’ll make any manner of mistakes.

Because it’s an expression of their humanity.  An expression of their journey to figure out how to live their lives.  A journey that God breathed into them and created them for.  A journey that in all of it’s ups and downs and mistakes was designed for his honor, because every time we recognize our own frailty we come closer to trusting in him and searching for his voice and call.

So make your mistakes, and I’ll make mine.  We’ll change and grow.  And if you have a friend who is about to make a grave mistake, by all means, say, “hey!  That’s a hot stove there,” and then back away.  Because maybe part of their story is being burnt, or maybe it isn’t.  But you’ll never know unless you let them live their story, and stay their friend long enough to hear it told.

Oh New Year, you fickle friend…

I’m not a huge fan of New Years.  I especially do not like New Years resolutions.  Why?  Because it seems like every year people decide that the following year is going to be better.  They’ll lose some weight, or they’ll have better romances, or they’ll reach some goal that they’ve had forever but always seems just outside their grasp.  And most of the time, nothing will change.  Nothing will change because the person making the resolution is essentially the same as they’ve always been, and an arbitrary day coming and going and putting a new calendar up on the wall really doesn’t change anything.  The New Year only means change if the person changes, and just deciding you want things to be different doesn’t do anything; that is, unless you decide how.

How to lose the weight?  How to love better?  How to finally run that mile or write that book or get that grade?  How, precisely, will you do it?  The magic of the New Year will not do it for you.  The New Year is a fickle friend who will turn on you in a heart beat, curdling your resolutions and giving you the opposite instead.  Like the Genie in the lamp, you cannot wish well enough to get precisely what you want.  If you worship the holiday season you will find it is a trickster god.  It promises you health and wealth and togetherness but instead it bloats your credit card bill and sparks fights between families and leaves you with the stomach flu.

It’s just not magic, it’s not.  Especially the New Year.  Nothing Changes.  Time rolls onward and our world only changes when we do.  That’s not to say that things don’t eventually get better.  You’ll meet all your goals if you truly commit yourself to it.  You can lose those pounds and write that novel.  You can change the patterns of your life.  You can.  Just understand that patterns resist changing, and the only way to break out of the old mold and make yourself a new one is continuous, deliberate choice.  Picture the future novelist resolving to write their book, finally, and then waiting for inspiration.  Days and weeks pass and they barely add to the word count.  Months pass and they see the next year starting to loom.  But there’s this, and that, and the other thing, and pretty soon they are saying, “next year.  Next year I will really do it.”  Why?  Why do we do this to ourselves?

Because we don’t understand.  We don’t understand the way life gets in the way.  We live in survival mode.  We’ve forgotten how to have priorities.  We don’t know anymore how to wake up in the morning and say, “I said I’m going to lose ten pounds so today I will not eat sugar.  Today I will eat healthy.  Today I will plan ahead.”

We live as if life is something that happens to us, not something we do.

If you make one resolution for yourself this year, make it this:

This year I will recognize that life is something I act out, not something that happens to me.  I will live it intentionally for myself.

Everything else comes second to that decision.  Trust me, I know.  My marriage didn’t happen to me, I happened to my marriage.  The same was true with my jobs and my dreams and my children.  Nothing started making sense until I realized that in some very real way I was the center of my universe, and the gravitational pull I emanated could either bring me hope or more crap.  I had to wake up every morning with intent, with a plan, with a goal.  I had to stop being a casualty of my own life.

I have a lot of goals for the next year.  I will get back to a healthy size and lifestyle.  I will write a novel.  I will publicize my books and be intentional about getting my voice out into the world again.  I will not drop things when they get too hard.  I will make myself strong enough to carry through.

But those aren’t New Year’s resolutions.

They are decisions that do not rely on an arbitrary date or magic.

So don’t torture yourselves, friends.  Respect yourselves and your power in your own lives.  God gave you your body, your heart, your mind, your dreams.  God gave you your life.  Live it.