Sometimes mistakes can lead you to the right place, but you must first recognize them as mistakes in order to react to mistakes appropriately.
Perhaps the Ten Commandments were given to us by God not merely for us to obey, but to help us recognize when we’ve made a mistake or when we are doing something wrong.
There is a book by Hans Ohanian entitled, “Einstein’s Mistakes: The Human Failings of Genius.” It discusses mistakes that Einstein made, including early proofs of E=mc2, and the difficulty Einstein had recognizing them as mistakes. “Once a genius falls into a seductive mistake, it’s liable to become a ‘idee fixe.’ He is then blind to the mistake, and if this blindness is compounded by stubbornness, he will be deft to criticism, and he will cling to his mistake forever.”
We don’t have to be a genius to be blind to our mistakes. It’s sometimes easier to be blind to a mistake than to see it as one. I have failed to recognize as mistakes many things I’ve done out of pure stubbornness or arrogance. Several times it is pride or ego that gets in the way of recognizing a mistake I’ve made; sometimes I am afraid of the consequences of admitting I am wrong. Occasionally, I have invested so much time, ego, and energy into a decision that I simply find it too hard or unthinkable to admit I was wrong — and start over.
It took me a long time, but I finally realized that the biggest mistake I have ever made is to fail to recognize my mistakes when they occur and address them in a timely manner. Mistakes no one else would ever find out about were particularly seductive because they tempted me to ignore them. In the past, I sometimes went to great lengths to avoid admitting mistakes I had made that were embarrassing or shameful, including convincing myself that others were to blame or others were in the wrong. Once I acknowledged I might be in the wrong, I would often imagine all sorts of horrible consequences to admitting what I had done that would tempt me to keep my mistakes secret (including damage to relationships, damage to reputation, ridicule, punishment, or loss of respect and social standing). But in the end, the more I ignored or tried to hide my mistakes, the less I matured spiritually.
I believe spiritual growth demands that we begin by being honest with ourselves. I believe it requires we remove the veil over our eyes and see ourselves for who we really are. Only then can we accept the challenge of loving ourselves and others — and becoming through lessons-learned the person God is waiting for us to become.
Perhaps Christ offers forgiveness for our mistakes partly to encourage us to admit them, learn from them, and try to make things right. Knowing that we will be forgiven if we make a mistake increases our capacity to recognize them more easily: The promise of forgiveness softens the consequences of admitting our mistakes and, although there are consequences to admitting our mistakes, there are consequences to not admitting them as well. “Ownership” of our mistakes allows us to make them right to the best of our ability, to teach others by example the power of forgiveness and trying to do the right thing, and to move on. By recognizing our mistakes and accepting responsibility for them, we can demonstrate our faith in Christ’s forgiveness and acknowledge our human fallibility. By so doing, we take advantage of an opportunity to grow in God’s grace.
Perhaps God made us all imperfect for a reason. Perhaps we are imperfect because there is divine beauty in recognizing that although we are made in God’s image, we are not God and we will blunder. Perhaps mistakes teach us humility, empathy and compassion — for ourselves and others. Instead of fearing our mistakes or trying to hide from them, I believe that Christ’s promise of forgiveness offers an unparalleled opportunity to embrace our imperfections, learn from our mistakes, and do what we can to be the person God waits for us to be.
As for the choices in our lives that seem “unforgivable” or too overwhelming to admit, we need not face them alone. They are only mistakes long-term if we ignore them; otherwise, they are temporary stumbling stones in our path. If we ask Him, Christ will stand beside us as we acknowledge our wrongdoings, ask for forgiveness, and learn so we do not repeat them. And although we may not be able to “fix” or ever undo the harm our mistakes may have caused to other people’s satisfaction, Jesus will forgive us. Perhaps He already has.
Through God’s grace, not our own, we can learn from our mistakes and become the version of ourselves that God desires us to become. Through God’s grace and Christ’s forgiveness, we can be saved from our mistakes and wrongdoings.
“….‘Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. Jesus looked at them intently and said, ‘Humanly speaking, no one. But with God, everything is possible.” (Matthew 19: 25-26)
For God’s love and grace changes the impossible into the possible.
And without our mistakes, we would have learned nothing at all.