SPIRITUAL HABITS | The Power of a Little Mistake
The email had gone out to tens of thousands—with a glaring mistake in it.
I’ve never thought of myself as a perfectionist. I always reserved that term for those for whom “doing things right” is a daily dream, a dream that seems integrally tied to their emotional well-being.
I’m grateful for those people; especially the ones who are growing in self-awareness and have embraced their need for healing, growth, and surrender.
My remarkable wife is one of those people; she is drawn to, and cares for, the little details of our life together. I am so grateful. Bills, food supplies, budgets, stamps, holiday decorations, cleaning, parenting, and more. She’s a gift to me, and I am daily overwhelmed with just how many details she attends to that make our lives beautiful.
But I’ll confess something to you that she already knows. When she’s in the moment, caring for a detail that matters for our day-to-day functioning (wow, how did those vegetables magically appear in our refrigerator?) or long term relationships (wow, we sent Christmas cards to people this year?), I like to think that I’m attending to details that are “bigger,” and maybe, just maybe… “more important.”
[Pause for dramatic effect #1]
C’mon. You know what I mean. “I’m caring for the lifetime details,” I tell my wife when I’ve forgotten to pick up the avocados at Kroger (again). The way-we-do-communication details, the next-few-hundred-years-of-our-family-legacy details, the next-thousand-years-of-the-Church-discipleship details.
I feel impressed with myself in those moments. Sure of myself. At one with God and His bright, beautiful world in my aesthetic and metaphysical attention to detail.
Then, I make a mistake.
Not a big mistake, mind you, but a little, teeny, tiny, could-be-a-big-deal-but probably-isn’t, mistake.
[Pause for dramatic effect #2]
Not a mistake of the heart, mind you. (Those “mistakes” are something other than mistakes—they are errors and fractures of desire, character, judgement, emotional mastery, and discernment. The Bible has another name for these).
My mistake is a simple mistake of the head and the hand.
THE POWER OF A LITTLE MISTAKE
I wrote a phrase in an email that is incorrect. I was in a hurry. Little time to review what I wrote. But no one cares that I was in a hurry! Not one of the tens of thousands of readers of that email cares that I was in a hurry and forgot to double-check that reference. Oh, the humanity!
That moment is when all the I’m-not-a-perfectionist-but-maybe-just-once-more-for-old-time’s-sake readers immediately hit reply to inform me and the organization for which I am writing that a mistake has been made.
They are thankful for my mistake. That mistake gave them something important to do that morning. Correcting me is a great way to start the day! They probably say, “I feel…refreshed!”
In my world, those wonderful people are often quite gracious in their notes (a few, I can see, are struggling to be so). Even a few close friends of mine write to say something like: “Hey, I saw that mistake. Sorry. You saw where it is, right?” They know me. They know how I can be. They know that I’m still healing from, gulp, perfectionism.
But wait. Is it perfectionism that I am healing from?
When a little writing mistake happens a sick feeling in my stomach overtakes me, and I am deeply, deeply, embarrassed. I am embarrassed for me, and for the organization l represent. I am especially embarrassed if the mistake changes the meaning of what I’m writing, conveying that I mean something different than what I actually mean.
Embarrassed. That’s the word. Now we’re getting at it.
There it is again, raising it’s ugly head. Shame is the opponent from which I need deliverance.
“You didn’t make a mistake,” shame whispers; “You are a mistake.” The enemy of my soul begins to work. Maybe this time he can begin to extinguish the flame in me for good. Maybe this time.
But no! Thank you, Jesus, that the shame-sting can diminish over years of walking with You!
Decades of the Spirit’s kindness, meeting me in worship, prayer, ministry, revelation, Scripture absorption, spiritual habits, spiritual friendship, spiritual direction, therapy, and by other means, have diminished shames power to shut me down and lock me out from love.
Thank you, Jesus. Thank you.
And after making many writing mistakes over the years (when you’re a writer, the odds are you will blow it now and again), sometimes in emails, and sometimes in print, I’ve had to learn to allow Jesus to help me “get over myself.”
By “get over myself” I don’t mean “bypass what was revealed in my heart”—I mean “embrace my limitations, release my expectations (of myself and others), and surrender my heart palpitations to to the love and unmitigated acceptance of Jesus.” I.e. To get over myself, like a bridge, to the other side of healing.
WHOLENESS IS THE GOAL
Small mistakes can be a great, great gift.
Mistakes, and our responses to them, highlight the state of our hearts. They expose where we are really at, behind the optics, and reveal a part of our souls that is in need of continued healing, of awakening, to Christ’s love.
So, as a recovering perfectionist when it comes to writing, music, and a few other areas of life, mistakes are now my… gulp… friend.
While a mistake can still devastate me for days (or longer), and I often mentally repeat my mistakes on loop for far longer than I care to admit, I am healing from the shame that drives those responses.
“I made a mistake,” I say out loud to myself, and when it’s helpful, to others. “I’ll try not to do that again. But I am not a mistake. I am a precious, precious child of God who is on a journey to wholeness. I am forgiven, and in this case, I forgive myself. I am loved! Mistakes shall be made! I am on a journey to wholeness!”
Wholeness, a fullness of knowing our belovedness to Jesus and the belovedness of others around us to our Father in heaven, is a much more worthy goal than simple perfection.
“Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” Jesus told us in Matthew 5:48. “Perfect” in this setting means “completeness”—completeness in goodness, peace, moral and relational clarity, shamelessness, and loving-kindness.
Jesus lived that kind of fullness, of remarkable, elegant wholeness, among us.
I am grateful for the power of a little mistake, and for what it can bring into the light.
Every little mistake is just another opportunity to surrender to our Lord Jesus, to recognize our need for both healing and grace, to correct what we can, to get better at what we do, to slow or change our pace, and to learn to forgive ourselves as God forgives us.
So here’s to little mistakes, and the opportunities they create to draw near to Jesus once again.
Blessings Full and Re-Narrating Your Story and Mine,
P.S. Note: Any mistakes you find in this article have been intentionally left there for my own healing. If you find one, you have my permission to not tell me it’s there. I already know. I. Already. Know.
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