I messed up. I couldn’t believe my own eyes and, quite frankly, I didn’t want to. You know one of those moments when you want to be dreaming/ ‘nightmaring’ or imagining what is in front of you but, you know only too well that, well, it’s very much real life and you are painfully wide awake. Now, don’t be under any illusion, this was most certainly not the first time I’ve messed up. And, in all honesty, when I was little, I reckoned that when you were a grown up, you pretty much had it all worked out and sussed and sorted and you certainly didn’t get things wrong. Big people just didn’t mess up.
Oh, if only my childish disillusions had been true.
I think that as I’ve got older, I’ve become more skilled in making mistakes than avoiding them. And, there are times when, as I look back, I have felt physically sick or simply wanted to/actually have cried, as I have wished with all my heart that I could turn back time or do things differently. To go back and think before I acted, or consider my words more carefully before I spoke, if either was even necessary in the first place.
This last couple of weeks have centred a lot around toilet training in our house – oh the power a small nappy-less creature has! But what has been blatantly clear is that when there are successes we celebrate them and when there have been mistakes, we see those as a kind of learning curve; a how-not-to; a ‘chance to learn from’, rather than ‘dwell on’ moment. What we haven’t done, is chosen to see it as a total failure, something to be continually re-lived. A moment to think about in a daily basis.
So why do we do that to ourselves?
I could fill a book with moments I re-live. With past regrets and failures that I like to beat myself up about. Regularly. If the children did this? I’d be mad – ‘Don’t dwell on that,’ I’d say. ‘Learn from it and move on.’ Isn’t it funny how differently we speak to those around us than we do to ourselves? How much easier it is to speak words of encouragement to our loved ones than into our own hearts and minds.
I’ve been challenged a huge amount recently to consider how I think about my past. Specifically, the things I wish I could do differently or, more than likely, the things that I wish I hadn’t done at all! The moments when I wish I could have done better or, when wounded pride has been seen for what it is and once criticism has been taken on board, and I see that though it was unpleasant at the time, those words were a lesson in themselves. But what happens next is up to me.
I know something for sure: dwelling on the ‘wish it hadn’t happened’ moments does not bring peace and joy. So why do I? Well, I happen to believe that doubt and regret are two of the greatest weapons that Satan can use against us. They lead to feelings of self-loathing, of not being good enough, of despair and hopelessness. Of worthlessness and insignificance. We see weakness and failure. We see ourselves in that moment. And we allow that one moment to colour the bigger picture.
But here’s what I’ve been learning: that’s not how the God who created the world, who hung the stars in the skies, who numbers the hairs on our heads and who has a plan for each and every one of us, sees us. The God who allowed His one and only Son to not only suffer excruciating pain, but to do so under the weight of our guilt, despite His own perfect innocence, did not see us as worthless failures. And the most amazing part? He knew each and every mess-up we would make long before we made them. And still, He thought we were worth the supreme sacrifice.
Lamentations 3 reminds us: ‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning’. For every time we mess us, the mercy of God is there for us. God didn’t provide a ‘one time only’ offer of mercy, but a new every day, for as long as we live’ kind. But notice as well, it’s mercy for the new day, not for the days we’ve decided to re-live. God has already given us mercy for those days when we made our mess up in the first place.
It’s so easy to miss important messages that God has for us. The message of Philippians 3 clearly tells us to ‘press on’ but, here’s something that I think I’ve missed many times: ‘forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead’. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read that many times but you know how sometimes, the words speak a little deeper? In verse 15 we also read, ‘all of us who are mature should take such a view of things.’
We are actually instructed to forget the past, move on and look to the future. Paul David Tripp writes: ‘It is grace to not be paralysed by regret. The cross teaches that you are not stuck, not cursed to pay forever for your past.’
Carrying a weight slows us down. It causes us discomfort and does not allow us to fully embrace and enjoy the moment we are in. Keeping a record of past failings and regrets does the same to our minds. The weight might not be something we can physically see, but it certainly weighs us down mentally and undoubtedly saps our enjoyment of the here and now, as well as eating into our hopes for the future.
I love the words Christine Caine uses: ‘The past is set and can’t be changed. What happened, happened. But I can make choices today that will determine my future… By putting God at the centre of our lives, by dealing with issues that hold us back, and by recognising that the plans of God are bigger than the pain and regret of our past, we are able to get up from wherever we are at this moment and move forward… If we want to be unstoppable in our race, we need to constantly challenge ourselves to clean out the internal world of our heart and mind so that we can have more room to contain more of the power of God within us… God can turn it all around and use your past to give someone else a future. That’s what Jesus does.’
When I discovered the mistake I mentioned earlier, I was faced with a choice. I could scream, I could consider throwing up, I could tell someone I trusted, I could pray, I could ask them to do so as well. I could decide that I was a failure and should just give up. Or, having done a little of all of the above, I could choose to take a deep breath, to think about how the situation could be remedied and I could set about fixing it. With God’s strength and grace, I was able to sort it out. Could I change what I had done? No. But I was able to start again and make a success of it, second time around. It took time and energy, determination and support but I was and am so truly glad that I silenced the voice that told me I’d messed up and should admit defeat and just give up. And in addition to this, it taught me a number of lessons that I know will stand me in good stead in the future.
Mistakes happen. We have regrets. We wish we could change the past. But we can’t. What we can do, is to look at our mess-ups – and oursleves – through the eyes of grace. We are loved by the One whose ‘strength is made perfect in weakness’. He’s made provision for our ‘mess – up moments’ and He wants us to ‘forget what is behind’. Let’s learn from our mistakes rather than live in them. There’s fresh new mercy for each and every new day. Let’s live in a way that celebrates this. Remember, if we’d viewed all our childhood failures as a message of hopelessness, we’d all still be in nappies. Now if ever there was a reminder to learn from mistakes and move on, there’s one! 😉