The beginning of a new year is a time filled with laughter, cheer, and a hopeful outlook on how the coming days can be better than the last. Resolutions reset and scores of people head out with reinvigorated hope.
Amidst all the excitement, however, I wonder if any of you are actually afraid of repeating the past.
Maybe last year or several years ago you made a mistake that has tainted your outlook of the future. Maybe you watched 11:59 pm turn to 12:00 am wondering how you’re going to mark up this fresh slate.
For you or anyone else who needs it, here are four points I’ve collected over the years to keep in mind when it comes to mistakes.
#4 — Mistakes are natural
First of all, of course you’ve made mistakes. Life doesn’t come with instructions. A guide, yes, but not a step-by-step manual. You’re human and, as fallen beings, we naturally mess up (Romans 3:23, James 3:2).
“Life is an open book test. You learn as you go along.”-Rick Thomas
Life is also too short to be angry with yourself for being human. It doesn’t necessarily matter how many times you fall as long you get up every time and have another go.
It’s not about what you’ve done, it’s about what you do about it.
We all have low moments. We have low spots where we end up making decisions we regret. “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing,” Paul wrote in Romans 7:19.
As Sirius Black advises his nephew in The Prisoner of Azkaban, “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on.” I’ll elaborate further down.
#3 — You’re trying
I was always so confused by One Republic’s song “I Lived.” It’s a popular piece typically played when one feels on top of the world and that life is going their way, but the lyrics are talking about falling, floods, heartbreak, broken bones, and other undesirable things.
Ryan Tedder wrote the song for his son, pointing to the theme that joy cannot fully be experienced without pain (see point #2 here). In order to truly live, you have to have down moments.
Mistakes are proof that you are living, that you are trying.
“No matter how many mistakes you make or how slow you progress, you’re still way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying.”-Tony Robbins
You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, 100% of the opportunities you don’t pursue. While there is balance between taking on responsibilities and tending to those you already have, don’t let fear of failure cripple you. Try and fail, but never fail to try.
Also don’t hone in on individual episodes and miss the bigger pattern. You will mess up every once in a while, but what’s the general trend? Are you getting better at handling those situations or worse?
#2 — There is beauty in brokeness
Beautiful things have dents and scratches, too. Broken crayons still color. Beautiful mosaics are made of broken pieces.
In Japan, broken objects are often repaired with gold. The flaw is seen as a unique piece of the object’s history that adds to its beauty.
Think about how Scripture likens believers to jars of clay that hold the light of Christ. If we are never broken, how is that light going to shine for others to see?
“Let it rise like incense / My whole life a fragrance / Every ounce here broken at Your feet”-Kalley Heiligenthal, “Alabaster Heart“
In response to one of her husband’s sermons, Anne Ortlund wrote, “The need for Christians everywhere (nobody is exempt), is to be broken. The vase has to be smashed! Christians have to let the life out! It will fill the room with sweetness.”
Making mistakes is one of the ways that brokenness occurs, one of the ways God humbles us closer to Christlikeness, which is really what it’s all about (cue the next point).
#1 — God
God is after our hearts, so there is nothing that will happen—whether good or bad—that isn’t ultimately meant to draw our hearts closer to His.
When you make a mistake, know this is another step in that mysterious balance between God’s will and man’s free will that God is using to further His kingdom.
“If you think you’ve blown God’s plan for your life, rest in this: You, my beautiful friend, are not that powerful.”-Lisa Bever
And do your best not to tear yourself up and become thoroughly depressed about whatever it is that happened. You are loved more than you will ever know by Someone who died to know you.
If you made a mistake that’s breaking you down, listen to that call. Sometimes trials come to expose where we need to grow and turn us to our Healer, an “I don’t care how far you’ve run, just come home” kind of God.
How to move forward
Okay, there are a few points, a few silver linings. What now? How should you move forward into the day-to-day of acting in light of your mistake?
This first thing is by far the hardest. We as human beings are really good at deterring humiliating circumstances but, if you want to cross the bridge to a better future, you have to take care of the elephant in the middle of it.
“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”-Proverbs 28:13
What this looks like is relative depending on the scenario but, in general, there needs to be some sort of acknowledgment of what you did wrong.
Whether this is an apology or asking for forgiveness, you need to take responsibility and let those who were affected know (A) you messed up, (B) you’re going to do what you can to repair the situation, and (C) you—by the grace of God—are not going to do that again.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”-1 John 1:9
Even if those who were caught in the shrapnel do not respond well to your confession, there is still grace extended for those who submit to the call of humility. In the end, you cannot control how others react, only how you handle your part. Find out more here.
You will learn more from the fights you lose than the fights you win, and sometimes the best lessons come from the worst mistakes.
Accept that it happened and learn from the experience so you can do better in the future.
Use the past as a guide, not a filter. Let it make you better, not bitter. The past is a place of reference, not a place of residence, so forget the past and remember the lesson.
“Oh yes, the past can hurt. But, you can either run from it or learn from it.”-Rafiki, The Lion King
The best thing about the past is that it shows you what not to bring into the future. Don’t build a new structure with materials from the one that fell apart. Turn a new leaf and start fresh.
People who can embrace failure focus on what can be done to achieve their goals. People who are afraid of failure are hindered by all the things that could prevent them from getting what they want.
3. Don’t repeat
Sometimes your situation will keep repeating itself until you learn your lesson. As Paulo Coelho once said, “A mistake repeated more than once is a decision.”
Most of our mistakes, the big ones at least, are the result of allowing emotion to overrule logic. We knew the right choice but didn’t obey.
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”-Albert Einstein
While it is innately human to make mistakes…repeatedly, it is also innately human to grow, learn, mature, and get better. As Joan Rivers said, “I wish I could tell you it gets better, but it doesn’t get better. You get better.”
Take that piece of wisdom you gained the hard way and move forward with the mindset that today will be different.
“What if I fall? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?”-Erin Hanson
It’s a new year. You have 12 new chapters and 365 new chances. Make the most of them.
I’d love to hear from you!
Where are you at in life? What thoughts are you wrestling with? I’d love to write articles that benefit you.