Life, Hope & Truth

From the January/February 2020 issue of Discern Magazine

Three Ways to Learn From Mistakes

Making mistakes is easy. Learning from mistakes takes effort. Here are three ways we can all make better decisions in the future.

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Hello! My name is Jeremy, and I make mistakes.

But, then, so do you. So does everyone, if we’re being honest. “For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body” (James 3:2)

Sometimes we can get it into our heads that being a Christian means being flawless, but nothing could be further from the truth. Part of being a Christian in progress means understanding that not one of us is perfect—not you, not me, not anyone else besides God the Father and Jesus Christ. “For there is no difference,” wrote Paul, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23).

Not some of us.

All of us.

That can be a depressing truth to grapple with, but here’s the upside:

God isn’t looking for Christians who never make mistakes. He’s looking for Christians who learn from their mistakes. And that’s something all of us can do.

Learning from mistakes requires effort

But here’s the thing: We don’t automatically learn from our mistakes.

That might feel counterintuitive, but it’s true—and important to keep in mind as we navigate this topic. It’s entirely possible to go through life without ever correcting course when we mess up.

Solomon put it this way: “As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly” (Proverbs 26:11). A graphic image, to be sure, but one that drives home the futility of making the same bad choices over and over again.

If we want to do better than Solomon’s proverbial dog, it’ll take effort from us—intentional, focused effort. Here are three steps to get us started:

1. Call a spade a spade

“Mistake” is an easy word to hide behind—but most of the time, a mistake is a bad decision, not the total accident it pretends to be. Sure, sometimes the consequences of that decision are unexpected, but the decision itself is still a choice we make.

Own up to that.

If we want to learn from mistakes, we have to start by being honest with ourselves. We have to be able to look at our blunders and admit not only, “This was a bad decision,” but, “This was a bad decision I made.”

That’s the doorway to change. Once we’re willing to admit it to ourselves, we can admit it to God—and “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).

When we acknowledge our mistakes and seek to make course corrections, God is happy to clear our slate and help us start again.

2. Identify your triggers

Just as discretion can be the better part of valor, sometimes a key component of self-control is learning to stay away from the things that can derail us.Self-control isn’t always about staring down your temptations without flinching. There’s more to it than flexing your willpower and saying no. Just as discretion can be the better part of valor, sometimes a key component of self-control is learning to stay away from the things that can derail us.

Are there any mistakes you find yourself making over and over? Bad decisions you keep repeating, even though you’ve told yourself, “This has to stop”? Sometimes the key to breaking that cycle is taking a step back and figuring out why you keep going that route.

Right before you make that mistake, what are you usually doing? What are you thinking? What are you feeling? If you start seeing a recurring trigger that makes you more susceptible to making bad decisions, then it’s time to start tweaking variables.

Are there people or places you need to start avoiding? Distractions that you can distance yourself from, or at least make less accessible? Mental or physical exercises you can adopt to impact how you’re feeling or what you’re focusing on? Changes you can make in your daily routines or even your entertainment choices?

Once we can spot our triggers, we can take steps to minimize their impact—or cut them out of our lives entirely. Jesus told His disciples, “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. … And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire” (Matthew 18:8-9).

(Our article “‘If Your Right Eye Causes You to Sin, Pluck It Out’: What Did Jesus Mean?” explains that this passage is about removing sin, not body parts. For more on what hellfire is and isn’t, see “What Is the Lake of Fire?”)

Satan knows your triggers, and he’ll expose you to them every chance he gets. The strength to say no and resist those triggers is important, but so is the wisdom to identify and avoid them whenever possible.

3. Learn from others’ mistakes

Paul, writing about the failings of Old Testament Israel, explained, “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:11-12).

It reminds me of the old Benjamin Franklin quote: “Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.”

To put it another way: If we choose to learn from only our own mistakes, we’re in for a rough ride.

The Bible is full of mistakes (and lessons) from the lives of those who came before us. And as much as the world has changed in the last few thousand years, human nature has stayed pretty much the same.

New clothes, new toys, new buildings, but it’s still the same old human beings doing the same old human things. That means the stories of the Bible aren’t just ancient history, but guides for avoiding modern-day pitfalls and making good decisions.

It’s never too late to get back up

You are a Christian who makes mistakes. So am I. But the Bible says, “A righteous man may fall seven times and rise again” (Proverbs 24:16). With God’s help through the Holy Spirit, we can be Christians who learn from those mistakes and never stop growing.

Get back up and keep moving forward.

Have a topic you want to see tackled in this column? Send your suggestions anonymously through lifehopeandtruth.com/ideas.

For more on making the right decisions, read “Decision Making: 7 Steps for Christian Choices.”

About the Author

Jeremy Lallier

Jeremy Lallier

Jeremy Lallier is a full-time writer working at the Life, Hope & Truth offices in McKinney, Texas. He has a degree in information technology, three years’ experience in the electrical field and even spent a few months upfitting police vehicles—but his passion has always been writing (a hobby he has had as long as he can remember). Now he gets to do it full-time for Life, Hope & Truth and loves it. He particularly enjoys writing on Christian living themes—especially exploring what it looks like when God’s Word is applied to day-to-day life. In addition to writing blog posts, he is also the producer of the Life, Hope & Truth Discover video series and regularly writes for Discern magazine.

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