You know how people say, “you have to walk before you can run”? Before you walk, you have to fall on your butt. A lot. This is something that I’ve written about before, but usually in the context of art. Before you paint the Sistine Chapel, you’re going to have to paint a lot of duds. Yet, art isn’t the only place where that rule applies. It applies in life as a whole. Sometimes in order to learn how to be a good parent you have to realize the areas where you’ve been a bad one. Sometimes to learn how to be a good employee you have to make mistakes and learn why and how not to make them again in the future. To learn how to study well you have to, at times, fail at studying. It’s a process, a long and complicated process we get started in from birth. Trial and error, trial and error. How do babies learn how to talk? How to get what they need? How to get from A to B? How to get food into their mouths? How to get a reaction from Mom and Dad? Trial and error, trial and error. Trying everything until they find the one thing that works. Trying what they know and making mistakes, making mistakes, growing and perfecting.
We have to make mistakes. We have to give ourselves permission to make mistakes, and we have to give others the right and choice to do the same. One of the things that has always bothered me the most about living with other Christians is the fact that you inevitably have that one person who thinks they know how to keep everyone else from messing up their lives. Talking to that person can sometimes start to sound like instant replay. “Why did Jane do that? That was such a mistake. Oh, Bill, you really shouldn’t do that. That would be bad. And what was she thinking? Why would he do that? If only someone would listen to me.”
Well, they shouldn’t. God created them to be a self-directed person, and you’re trying to steal their direction. You’re trying to steal their choices. Even if their choice is wrong, clearly wrong, spelled out in the Bible wrong, their choice is their gift from their creator. And they need to make it. If they never make their own choice, their own mistakes, how will they learn to listen to their conscience? If they try to avoid mistakes by listening to others all they are learning is to trust your voice more than the one God put inside of them.
“But what if they keep sinning until the day they die?”
That question tells me several things. First: It tells me you don’t trust other people, which is sad. Other people are God’s creation and he made them to do good works. You need to trust that his creation is good, because he said that it was good and he doesn’t lie. Second, it tells me that you don’t trust God. You don’t trust that the things he made are good and you don’t trust that he is powerful and capable of ministering to those who seek his ways. If someone is seeking to follow him and make right choices, then he will be there for them. Third, it tells me that you may be confused about your role. It isn’t your role to convict other people in their sins. Yes, if you see someone reaching for a hot burner, warn them. But unless they are a toddler don’t pull their hand away. It’s their hand, and they have the right to burn it. If you warn them and they get burnt they will receive conviction that you told the truth. (Trust me.)
Even when it’s not sin, respect the fact that people can and must and will make mistakes. They will marry the “wrong” person, they will have kids too young, they will go to the wrong school, they will accept the wrong job offer, they will dye their hair an awful color, they will wear clothes that embarrass them, they will flirt badly, they will watch horrible television, they will eat food that is awful for them, they will read bad books and tawdry magazines, they’ll invest in the wrong places, they’ll forget to save for retirement, they’ll party instead of studying, they’ll waste time on Facebook, and they’ll pay too much for cable television. They’ll make any manner of mistakes.
Because it’s an expression of their humanity. An expression of their journey to figure out how to live their lives. A journey that God breathed into them and created them for. A journey that in all of it’s ups and downs and mistakes was designed for his honor, because every time we recognize our own frailty we come closer to trusting in him and searching for his voice and call.
So make your mistakes, and I’ll make mine. We’ll change and grow. And if you have a friend who is about to make a grave mistake, by all means, say, “hey! That’s a hot stove there,” and then back away. Because maybe part of their story is being burnt, or maybe it isn’t. But you’ll never know unless you let them live their story, and stay their friend long enough to hear it told.