Bouncing Back from Mistakes

My least favorite thing about myself? I’m not perfect… I make mistakes. And sometimes it’s hard to recover from those mistakes. Really hard. Even the insignificant ones seem to be a screaming statement about my self worth.

Like the other day when I was trying to find the dust pan. What does it say about a person when she goes to sweep the floor and can’t remember where she left the dust pan?

Or yelling at my kids or spouse (again) when they were actually trying to help, or show their affection towards me, and I completely shut them down.

Or forgetting milk at the grocery store. Or running out of clean underwear. Or forgetting to pay the phone bill.

Mistakes can be one-time events, or recurring bad habits. They can be accidental or on purpose. They can go unnoticed or they can ruin a person’s life (or anywhere in between). They can be personal failures or corporate disappointments. They can be caused by neglect, oversight, or even external influence.

And our mistakes can define us or refine us.

Do your mistakes define you?

What does it mean when your mistakes define you? When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Do you see a failure? The person who is constantly messing up? Forgetful, out-of-touch, stupid, unlovable?

I used to be constantly afraid of making mistakes. I hated playing board games because I might give the wrong answer or spell the word incorrectly. Then everyone would know I wasn’t perfect. My choice to move across the country to pursue a personal goal filled me with terror, because I literally thought if I was wrong or if it failed I’d be known as “the girl who made the huge mistake.”

Sometimes the weight of our mistakes or failures can overwhelm us. We are suffocated by the thought of what we’ve done wrong in the past and our destiny to keep doing things wrong. We say things like “That’s just my luck,” “Of course it would happen that way,” or “Looks like I ________ again.” We start to sound a lot like Eeyore. We expect to make mistakes and let people down, to burn dinner, to forget to sweep the floor, to yell at the kids, to enter another failed relationship, to not get the job, to fall off the wagon… because we’ve done it before and that’s who we are. We are the person who burns dinner. We are the bad housekeeper. We are unqualified parents. We are attracted to losers. We are unemployable. We are addicts. We are __(fill in your mistake-based identity here)__.

Our mistakes define us.

Or do your mistakes refine you?

There’s a flip side to the story. We’re bound to make mistakes. Not because we are failures, but because we are human. We are not perfect. And we are not worse than everyone else. We are the same as everyone else. We don’t have to let our mistakes define us. We can let them refine us.

What does it mean to let our mistakes refine us? It’s a daily decision. Or rather, a one-day-at-a-time decision. A one-mistake-at-a-time decision. We acknowledge that we can not change the past, and we learn and grow from our mistakes.

Instead of saying “I should have…,” try saying “From now on, I will…” or “Today/Tomorrow I will…”

For example, “I should have swept the floor more often so I’d be able to find the dustpan when company is coming,” becomes “I found the dustpan, so from now on I will sweep the floor at the end of each day.”

Or, “I shouldn’t have yelled at the kids,” becomes “I’m sorry I yelled at you. From now on I’m going to try to be more patient.”

“I should have called him,” becomes “Tomorrow I will call him first thing.”

We let our mistakes point us toward better decisions tomorrow. They turn us into better people.

Now what?

It’s not easy to let our mistakes refine us. It takes effort, and intentional thinking and living. And it takes prayer. If you’re not a praying person, you might be successful to some degree for some time. But I have to tell you, I’m a strong person. I’m a strong-willed person. I can do a lot of things well. And they exhaust me in the end. I can reach some of the results I’m desiring after a long, arduous battle, and the results last for a short time. But I am also a praying person. And nothing makes a difference in my day like starting with a prayer. Not because of some mental ascent, but because the God of the Universe is real, and He is powerful. And He is personal. He inhabits the praying person and empowers him/her to conquer mountains. It’s like the difference between walking to the moon or taking a rocket ship.

Whether you are dependent on prayer or have never whispered a sincere “Dear God” in your life, would you try it with me, now?

Dear God,
Thank you that when you look at me, you don’t see me for my failures. You know my struggle and you’ve seen my mistakes, and you see the consequence for my neglect and wrong choices. But thank you for loving me anyway and seeing who you made me to be instead of who I’ve made myself to be. Show your power in me today and help me to crawl out of my self-made mess and live today closer to the way that you made me to live; full of power and love.
In Jesus’ Name,

You are strong. You are beautiful. And you are loved. Now it’s your time to start living like it!

Later today: While making the kids’ lunch, they made a mural out of a living room wall. They didn’t eat their lunch. While trying to scrub it off the wall, the doorbell rang. The neighbor was asking me to quiet down the kids who were thumping and screaming upstairs. The writing reappeared on the wall (my scrubbing had almost no impact on the “washable” markers.) they dumped out all the toys from the previously cleaned playroom. And I am NOT curled up somewhere in the fetal position! Any other day like this, I could have been halfway through a bag of M&Ms wallowing in a sense of inadequacy. So good to know these isolated events don’t define me!


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