Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Mistake by the lake

I grew up in a Christian home. At church, there were regularly sermons about possessing the mind of Christ. How God graciously gives wisdom to those who asked. That the Holy Spirit nudges us toward good behavior.

Not really understanding their significance as a child, I collected these truths like a kid might gather stuff in his pockets. Over time, as I bumped up against life, they became more real and practical.

I began to realize that what many referred to as “gut feel” was, for the Christian, often a divine prodding that should be heeded.

I also learned that in life and faith, truths tend to move from good ideas to practical realities in the midst of challenges.

More than successes, mistakes tend to turn mere information into wisdom.

Sometimes these lessons stuck. Sometimes not. Sometimes re-education was required.

For a few years, we lived in the “mistake on the lake” aka Cleveland, Ohio. In the middle of last year we moved to my wife’s hometown in Pennsylvania. The move brought us nearer to her family and allows us to help her recently widowed father.

So far, I don’t believe the move was a mistake. If it is, then it will be revealed in time.

Some decisions, when errant, reveal their wrong-headedness immediately. Others, at the time they’re made and acted upon, seem solid. Rational. Prudent.

But then you wake up a few days, weeks, or months later, the proverbial light bulb flashing on brightly, and you slap your forehead exclaiming like Homer Simpson, “Doh!”

You realize you’ve made a mistake, what the American Heritage Dictionary ungraciously defines as, “An error or fault resulting from defective judgment, deficient knowledge, or carelessness.”

I really hate when that happens.

And it happened in a big way a few months before we moved.

Having thought about our move for a couple of years, we knew we needed to downsize our stuff. It’s not like we owned a lot, but the basement of the house we rented had built up its accumulation of odds and ends.

A fair amount were the detritus of time that I had dragged across state lines, move after move. Their primary value were the memories I attached to them.

In my basement office I had files of all manner of papers, clippings, receipts, memos, old writings in various drafts, letters, and more.

Finally, one day, I decided to tackle all of it and clear out as much as was reasonable. I had only put it off since some needed to be shredded.

It was no problem for the first couple of hours, but then it got boring. Shredding is time consuming and monotonous.

My back began to ache from bending, lifting, and sorting. And there were books upstairs that needed reading and a comfortable recliner for doing just that.

I looked at what I had already trashed and what was left and hastily decided to just toss the remainder without sorting or shredding it.

I dumped several files worth of papers into a large black bag, hauled it out to the recycle bin by the driveway, and that was that.

That was, until this nagging sensation pressed ever so gently against my awareness.

Perhaps I’d tossed papers with sensitive info on them that should have been shredded. Perhaps mixed in the mess were a couple of very important keepsakes. Perhaps I should really retrieve the bag and thoroughly sort it.

I swatted down the nagging over several days until the trash was collected and the papers were gone. For good.

Weeks later I was talking with someone about a letter of praise I had received from a notable Christian personage many years before. Later I decided to look for the letter, having a pretty good idea where it was.

Yep, you guessed it.

As I went through the files where I thought I had placed the letter, it slowly dawned on me that it was in the files I had hastily dumped. I was heart sick. Especially as I realized there were other items I wanted to keep that also had been tossed.


I had made a horrible mistake. Actually, I had made a series of mistakes.

Proverbs 14:29 in the CEB says, “Patience leads to abundant understanding, but impatience leads to stupid mistakes.” In my case, emphasis on stupid.

I’ve always been one to mull, to take time, to tell others to just settle down and be patient. To be methodical. Yet, when it came to the simple task of clearing out my files, I failed to heed my own wisdom.

I became impatient. I rushed to finish up and rationalized a short cut.

But more, I ignored that nagging sensation. That nudge of conscience. That still small voice of godly wisdom. And I did it with impunity over a period of days.

But, ultimately, the cost was realized and is realized each time I recall more items that were in the batch of papers I failed to cull.

Fortunately nothing earth shattering was lost. I didn’t toss out the family savings hidden in a mattress as some have. There was no priceless jewelry accidentally donated to the thrift store. No rare antique.

What is lost are items that held value to only me.

I can never show that letter to anyone as proof. Which yields another lesson I continue to learn each time it comes to mind.

The letter itself is meaningless. What’s important is the character in me that was recognized by another that drew out the writing of the letter, a letter of recognition and encouragement.

I know what I did, what I accomplished, and need no letter to remind me. God knows, too.

My mistake has taught me -- is teaching me -- that my full trust and sense of worth must rest in God and God alone. What I do, who I am, it’s all to be for His glory. And often for His eyes only.

In the end, I lost nothing by my mistake, but gained wisdom.

Related reading:

Have you ever done something similar to what I did? What other mistakes have you made that, while painful, taught a valuable lesson? Have you ever repeated a mistake, having failed to learn from it the first time? Share your thoughts and insights in the comments!  Oh, and by the way, Cleveland is a wonderful, vibrant place, no mistake about it!

* I came across this article after writing this post. Kismet!

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