Mistakes are not the same as failures

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Last week, many friends of mine gave up some things they love. Although each participates in Lent for different reasons, they all seem dedicated to completing the various tasks.

Unfortunately, in less than a week’s time, many of these friends have already tripped up in their sacrificial quests. When this happens, they often become discouraged, tempted to give up the whole mission because of one little mishap.

The other night at dinner, one friend grabbed chocolate chip pancakes during a lapse of memory, forgetting she had committed to not eating chocolate. A battle then ensued amongst the ten of us in the party, debating whether it was better that she forego eating the remainder of her pancakes in order to get back on track, or whether she should finish the pancakes in order to not waste food.

Despite explosions of mock anger at her unethical wastefulness, she eventually decided on not eating the pancakes.

I applaud this decision although I wish it had been easier for my friend to make.

We can’t let ourselves get hung up on our mistakes. Although we may stray at times from our paths, we can’t let one blunder kick us off course permanently.

Sadly, I see this happen quite often. People falter in their new year’s resolutions and give up altogether. Students earn a poor exam grade and set the bar lower for the rest of the semester.

Girls go too far and create new standards for themselves, thinking they can’t continue to abide by their original, more modest ones because they made one mistake.

Proverbs 24:16 says “for though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again.” I know we don’t all agree on the definition of righteous, but I do think that we can all agree it is something worth striving for. This means (if you will forgive the cliche) we need to “get back on the horse.”

We all make mistakes. That’s just part of life. But we can’t let those mistakes alter our goals and our standards.

Take my friend, for example. Although she may have broken her fast from chocolate, she hasn’t ended her fast.

If anything, she is using her falter to strengthen her resolve.

Whether you are struggling with your commitments during this time of lent or you have let guilt or shame kick you off the path you so desire, I encourage you to make an effort to forgive yourself and to allow your mistakes to strengthen your own resolve.

Anyone can give up. Anyone can lower their expectations. But I think it’s time we start raising our expectations and asking more of ourselves.

We must recognize that we are more than the sum of our past mistakes, and faltering is not failing.

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