The Fear of "Mistakes"


Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

Just about everybody knows this poem by Robert Frost. Just about everybody has read it in high school English class. Just about every fork in the road on planet Earth has been photographed and emblazoned with some portion of the poem.

I've heard the above passage used so many times as a feel-good, go-get-'em call to adventure or as a reason to look back on one's past decisions with satisfaction and little regret. All ignorance of the analysis of the whole poem aside, I wonder how much people really buy the sentiment. In real life, I feel like most of us think, "Wait. How does he know that road was the right choice? What if the other one was better? What if the other road meant that he actually got a job that pays and could save money for retirement? What if that road meant that he'd actually meet "The One" and get married? What if he went to dance school like I--err, he--always wanted and won So You Think You Can Dance? How is he not freaking out?"

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how the burden of choice is actually a blessing. That's really easy to say when I compare us to people in poverty who don't have nearly the amount of opportunities we do. It's much harder when I have to make a big decision in my life. I have to pick a road without knowing where it leads? Do you have any idea what this means? Is it the right choice? What if choose wrong? What if I irreversibly screw up the course of my life?

The fear of making a mistake in the bigger decisions in my life--especially in careers and relationships--have always crippled me.

I want to do the right thing. I want to live the fullest, best life possible. I want to make the biggest impact I can. I want to follow where God leads me. The problem is that figuring all that out and exactly what it looks like can be super close to impossible sometimes.

My thought process goes like this: If I take the wrong job, if I stay at this job, if I move there, if I stay here, if I start this project, if I leave it alone...I might make a huge mistake. And I may never recover from it. I may lose out. I may screw up God's plan for me.

Something I read in Chasing Daylight by Erwin McManus really shook my fear-based stance on decisions. Erwin was talking with a friend of his, someone who was extremely talented and was facing the dilemma of having too many good options and opportunities in front of him. Erwin writes about this conversation:

I told him, "Just do something." He seemed shocked at what seemed a callous disregard for the will of God. He responded that he had too much respect for the sovereignty of God to just do something. I asked him if he thought that Hitler or Stalin had been capable of thwarting the sovereignty of God. He said, "Of course not." I pointed out that if men and women who gave their lives for a purpose counter to the will of God could not stop God's purpose in history, how could someone who longs to do God's will and choose to do something in line with God's character? I told him I had too much respect for the sovereignty of God to think that he or I could mess it up.

This messed with me quite a bit. All this time, I've been so positive that I hold all this power to really screw up God's will. And we're not talking about choosing between doing heroin or not, or going into the thieving business or not. (Though after watching Ocean's Eleven again recently, I'm tempted...)

We're talking having to choose between good option A and good option B. We're talking about choosing between things that could all be great opportunities, could be the "right thing to do," could be what "God wants for me." We're talking about decisions that I pray about, that I seek advice about, that I don't treat with recklessness.

And I believe that I can screw up God's will?


Listen. I don't think anyone knows truly knows the way that God's will intersects with our decisions and our futures. Anyone who says they know is full of it. But what I do know is that God can do some pretty great stuff with whatever decisions we make.

The clincher for me is the journey I've been on as I reflect over the last several years of my life. It would be extremely easy for me to pinpoint certain decisions and particular moments and say, "If I could go back in time, I would change that. It was a huge mistake." I could stand up and make a such a strong case, with evidence and graphs and much waving of my arms, that I could convince any judge in the world to throw the book at my "mistakes."

Except that I am here now because of those "mistakes." I've made some of my best friends in the world because of those "mistakes." I've gained the work experience I have because of those "mistakes." I've developed so many skills that will help me down the road because of those "mistakes." I've grown stronger and more mature because of those "mistakes." I've grown closer to God because of those "mistakes."

Yes, I'm obnoxiously quoting "mistakes." It's because I've come to a place where I don't see those decisions as mistakes anymore.

It is precisely because of those "mistakes" that I am who I am now. God has done so much good through my mistakes, I wouldn't dare go back and change them now. The single moms I know who had their children out of wedlock would tell you the same thing. They understand the strange tension of facing an unexpected consequence, feeling a flash of remorse, and then experiencing unbelievable blessing as a result (not without challenges, of course).

If God can do with any present or future mistakes what He's done with my past mistakes, then I have absolutely nothing to be afraid of. We vastly underestimate how many of our mistakes God can redeem and what can happen once He does redeem them.

You will make mistakes, and you will fail from time to time. But your life will not be over. God will not have abandoned you. As Erwin said, if the worst people in history couldn't thwart God's sovereign will, how in the world can you if you're honestly, diligently seeking Him? Learn from your mistakes, get up, and keep moving forward.

Life is too short to waste days, months, and years being afraid of making a mistake. So pray. Dream. And then do something.

You have nothing to fear.