I’m currently reading – amongst other things such as boring theology books and an extremely long book on London – a book called Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. It’s an absolutely fantastic book, written about writing but actually more about life than anything else. One of the chapters contained the following (loosely paraphrased) words:
‘My friend tells me that, when you have a decision to make, whether in writing or life, to just make it; after all, the worst that will happen will be that you make a terrible mistake.’
When I first read this, I though it a fairly lazy and nonchalant way of looking at life, sort of like saying, ‘Well, if I muck this relationship/piece of work/child of mine/person’s feelings/any other major life event up, then who cares?’ But having pondered it a bit more, I think it’s actually a brilliant piece of advice.
In our lives, we can be so incredibly keen to avoid every possible mistake. We go to great lengths to make sure that we don’t do anything wrong. I find this is reflected in parents who wrap their children up in cotton wool, in an attempt to avoid them ever getting sick. The problem is that, one day, that child will get sick, or have something horrible happen to them, and they won’t be prepared for it. Because their parents spent so long trying to keep them away from the bad stuff of the world, when it finally catches up with them, it’s thousands of times worse.
I think that we can live our lives too safely. We can be too afraid of making mistakes, of stepping out and getting it wrong. Now don’t misunderstand me – there are times in our lives when we certainly need to take time and think long and hard about a decision. There’s a big difference between deliberating over whether to move your family 500 miles away in order for you to get a new job, and what flavour ice lolly to have.
But the point is that, sometimes, we will make mistakes. Because we are human, we will muck it up, usually on a fairly regular basis. And honestly, that’s ok. Whilst we should strive our best to live good lives, not sin, and help others, we are going to do it wrong. This doesn’t excuse these things, but it gives us forgiveness. Peter made the mistake of taking his eyes of Jesus when he was walking on the water – but he’d got that far, which was more that the other disciples. He’d got that far by taking a risk, being willing to make the mistake.
Mistakes are often where we learn the most about ourselves, and about other people as well. It’s when we make the wrong choice that we learn that little bit more about who we are, how we work, and what kind of life we lead. It can be easy to think that our actions have some sort of cosmic ramification, but they don’t. Yes, they affect us and those around us, and God, but our mistake is not going to upset the delicate matter of the universe.
Whilst we shouldn’t seek out mistakes in order to learn about ourselves, and we certainly shouldn’t live a nonchalant life, we should not be afraid of mistakes either. We should embrace the riskiness that is life, relationships and the chaos of this world. Above all, we should not be afraid to make these decisions, and learn from the consequences, whatever they may be.