Home Pastors Spiritual Habits: The Power of a Little Mistake

Spiritual Habits: The Power of a Little Mistake


The email had gone out to tens of thousands—with a glaring mistake in it.

I’ve never thought of myself as a perfectionist. I always reserved that term for those for whom “doing things right” is a daily dream, a dream that seems integrally tied to their emotional well-being.

I’m grateful for those people; especially the ones who are growing in self-awareness and have embraced their need for healing, growth, and surrender.

My remarkable wife is one of those people; she is drawn to, and cares for, the little details of our life together. I am so grateful. Bills, food supplies, budgets, stamps, holiday decorations, cleaning, parenting, and more. She’s a gift to me, and I am daily overwhelmed with just how many details she attends to that make our lives beautiful.

A Confession

But I’ll confess something to you that she already knows. When she’s in the moment, caring for a detail that matters for our day-to-day functioning (wow, how did those vegetables magically appear in our refrigerator?) or long term relationships (wow, we sent Christmas cards to people this year?), I like to think that I’m attending to details that are “bigger,” and maybe, just maybe… “more important.”

[Pause for dramatic effect #1]

C’mon. You know what I mean. “I’m caring for the lifetime details,” I tell my wife when I’ve forgotten to pick up the avocados at Kroger (again). The way-we-do-communication details, the next-few-hundred-years-of-our-family-legacy details, the next-thousand-years-of-the-Church-discipleship details.

I feel impressed with myself in those moments. Sure of myself. At one with God and His bright, beautiful world in my aesthetic and metaphysical attention to detail.

Then, I make a mistake.

Not a big mistake, mind you, but a little, teeny, tiny, could-be-a-big-deal-but probably-isn’t, mistake.

[Pause for dramatic effect #2]

Not a mistake of the heart, mind you. (Those “mistakes” are something other than mistakes—they are errors and fractures of desire, character, judgement, emotional mastery, and discernment. The Bible has another name for these).

My mistake is a simple mistake of the head and the hand.

The Power of a Little Mistake

I wrote a phrase in an email that is incorrect. I was in a hurry. Little time to review what I wrote. But no one cares that I was in a hurry! Not one of the tens of thousands of readers of that email cares that I was in a hurry and forgot to double-check that reference. Oh, the humanity!

That moment is when all the I’m-not-a-perfectionist-but-maybe-just-once-more-for-old-time’s-sake readers immediately hit reply to inform me and the organization for which I am writing that a mistake has been made.

They are thankful for my mistake. That mistake gave them something important to do that morning. Correcting me is a great way to start the day! They probably say, “I feel…refreshed!”

In my world, those wonderful people are often quite gracious in their notes (a few, I can see, are struggling to be so). Even a few close friends of mine write to say something like: “Hey, I saw that mistake. Sorry. You saw where it is, right?” They know me. They know how I can be. They know that I’m still healing from, gulp, perfectionism.

But wait. Is it perfectionism that I am healing from?

When a little writing mistake happens a sick feeling in my stomach overtakes me, and I am deeply, deeply, embarrassed. I am embarrassed for me, and for the organization l represent. I am especially embarrassed if the mistake changes the meaning of what I’m writing, conveying that I mean something different than what I actually mean.