Maya Angelou once said, “Do the best you can until you know better. And when you know better, do better.”
As Christians we can take past troubles particularly hard, dragging them around in suitcases of embarrassment and shame, thinking no one would accept us if they only knew.
But what if you could use what you learned from past mistakes to improve yourself and even help others today?
In this post we’ll look at ideas for turning past mistakes into dazzling new positives. Because as Rick Warren once wrote, “We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it.”
1) The Person Forgiven Much Loves Much
The experience of God’s grace is by far the best thing that can come from our worst mistakes. Realizing that we are loved unconditionally and forgiven unconditionally isn’t natural to us, but it is mind-blowing and life-changing to realize.
The Bible tells us how Jesus was invited to eat at the house of a Pharisee named Simon. A woman from that town who had lived a sinful life heard Jesus was there, so she came into the house and weeping at his feet, wet his feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured expensive perfume on them. Simon was shocked; if Jesus were a holy man, why would he allow a sinner to touch him?
Jesus knew Simon’s heart and the heart of the woman and said to him:
Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
And Jesus said, “You have judged correctly.” (Luke 7:41-43)
When we feel the heavy weight of our past mistakes and then realize the goodness and fullness of God’s forgiveness, we’re moved to an overwhelming thankfulness and love. In the story above, Jesus turned to Simon and said, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven–for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Experiencing God’s grace opens our heart to a new kind of life– a life guided by the love of Jesus.
2) There’s a Better Way Revealed
Our past mistakes make us wiser today about what we don’t want to do; what we don’t need to repeat.
As Proverbs 26:11 says, “Like a dog that returns to its vomit, a fool does the same foolish things again and again.”
In an enriching series on Christian maturity, J. Hampton Keathley writes:
The mature believer recognizes that our failures show us what we should and should not do; they become lessons in where we went wrong and why. You know what they say, ‘hindsight is 10/20.’ It can help us avoid the same mistake twice if we will learn from history.”
You’ve learned something more about life, and you can use that wisdom to make better decisions. You can also use your unique experience to help someone going through the same struggles.
3) Opportunity to Cultivate Compassion
When we’ve made a mistake, instead of digging in our heels and holding tight to our defense, we could look around openly at the whole playing field. Who else was involved? What was their potential experience?
If there were others involved in our past mistakes, we can seek to understand their feelings and perspectives. If we share in their experience (compassion is actually defined as “shared suffering”), we may feel a desire to help or change, and in the process our compassion for others grows. Our eyes are opened to what we couldn’t before see. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Psychologists continually learn the personal benefits of having a compassionate heart. Here are just a few:
- Feeling less judgmental of others
- Having more desire to help others in challenging situations
- Experiencing less desire for acting in anger
- Wanting a more peaceful atmosphere
Besides the personal benefits, compassion opens our mind and hearts to others and their experiences. We step out of a narrow existence and into the shared experience of the human race, made in the image and likeness of God.
4) Use What You’ve Learned
We’ve all made mistakes; in that we’re the same. But how we use what we’ve learned to help others is what sets us apart.
Many significant figures from the Bible had mighty failures and made terrible mistakes. Moses, for example, murdered an Egyptian. Abraham (then Abram) lied about his wife being his sister to protect himself. Peter denied Christ three times.
But as Keathley reminds us: “Though they failed at some point, and often in significant ways, they not only recovered from their failure, but they used it as a tool of growth—they learned from their failure, confessed it to God, and were often able to be used in even mightier ways.”
In God’s unconditional love and mercy, we are helped and healed. How can we empathize with, encourage and even help those going down some of the same roads we once walked? It says in 2 Corinthians 3-4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
Many of us find our greatest purposes and calling in helping others avoid or survive the hurts, pains and pitfalls we once experienced.
5) Growth in the Real and Raw
As the Tenth Avenue North song You are More says, we are more than the choices that we’ve made. We are more than the sum of our past mistakes… We’ve been remade.
When we make mistakes we remember that we are human. We are fallible. And we are still loved unconditionally by God. Our mistakes allow us to feel the rawness of life, for better or for worse, and participate in its unfolding.
Discovering how our past mistakes can help us today gives us a new perspective. We pick back up and continue on stronger. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” And Luke 1:37 encourages us that all things are possible with God.
So the next time you notice less-than-desirable past memories floating through your mind, remember that nothing is wasted in your life. You can use that past choice in a surprising new way. How did it help you grow? What did it teach you? How have you changed?
Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”