We all make mistakes. Rationally we know that and when others make mistakes, we easily share the truth that it’s okay to make mistakes. We usually accept their apologies easily (if they seem honest at least) and forgive them. After all, to err is human.
But when we are confronted with our own mistakes, it suddenly becomes a lot harder to accept our fallibility. Recent news stories have once again shown the length to which people will go to try and cover up their mistakes. Shame about what you’ve done, anger at yourself for being so stupid, fear of the consequences, they can all contribute to a ‘flight response’ of trying to keep the truth buried. Unfortunately, the truth has proven to be very persistent and few people have managed to keep their secrets from coming out.
As youth leaders, we make mistakes as well. Some are minor and more easily dealt with, but every now and then we blow it big time. How to deal with our mistakes in a way that honors God? Here’s my advice.
Confess to God
First admit your mistake to God. Tell Him what happened and share your feelings. You may ‘feel’ like God is disappointed in you, or that He will be angry, but this is one of those instances where you have to trust God’s Word above your own feelings. God has promised us forgiveness and He will never turn you away when you come to Him. Trust in that promise and feel secure of the Father’s love. If you find that hard to believe, just read about King David’s many mistakes and then realize that after all that, he was still called ‘a man after God’s heart’.
I know it can scare the socks of you to be faced with owning up to a big mistake. You don’t know how people will respond, what the consequences will be, if you will ever be looked at the same. You may feel the urge to conceal at least part of the truth. Don’t. Just come clean and be honest. Trust in God to honor that and know that He will never leave you or forsake you, no matter what you’ve done.
Usually when we blow it, we can think of many factors that contributed to it. There may be ‘extenuating circumstances’ and there may even be other people involved who are just as much to blame as you are. But you need to take responsibility and own your mistake. Don’t shift the blame, don’t involve others. They’ll need to come clean with their roles themselves.
When you are confronted with your mistake, try to apologize personally to those involved as soon as possible. Be honest about what you did and apologize. When you’ve made a mistake that’s affected a larger group of people, apologize publicly to them all. You can do it in a meeting, or send them all a letter or email. People may get angry with you and may not easily forgive you. That’s something that’s hard to deal with. Just keep praying for them and guard your heart from bitterness taking root and leave it at that. It’s not your job to convince them to forgive you, leave that up to the Holy Spirit who’s much better at that.
Learn from your mistakes
Especially if you’ve made a big mistake, you need to learn from it. So spend some time analyzing what went wrong. What do you need to change to make sure you won’t make this mistake again? Maybe you need to change certain policies, or make chances in the way you work. Do what you need to do to make sure you will never make this mistake again. Ask someone to be your accountability partner if necessary, or seek a coach. Share these lessons with others, so that they may learn from your mistakes and to create a leadership culture in which there’s room for mistakes.
To me, this is the hardest part…we can be so disappointed in ourselves, so angry. And I’ve learned that there’s no fast and easy way to come to the point where I forgive myself. All I’ve learned is that it takes a lot of time spent with God, to have Him fill me with His grace so I can extend that grace to myself as well. I take comfort from the many stories in the Bible in which people made mistakes, but were still reinstated by God. Think of Jonah, Moses, David, Samson…God hasn’t changed and neither has His love and forgiveness.
Do you find it hard to forgive yourself for your mistakes? How do you get to that point eventually?