A young dad pours out his heart over his teenaged son. The kids’ been taught to do the right thing . . . loved consistently, mentored, challenged and developed to be a college freshman who doesn’t make the same mistakes as his dad. He goes off to college and what happens? He finds women, alcohol, drugs and freedom, especially freedom from studying. Result: he makes a big mistake. The dad has a friend who’s connected to his son. He knows him well enough to be trusted and enough to tell him this straight-up truth:
“You won’t be defined by the mistake you made . . . you’ll be defined by how you recover from it.”
Everyone makes mistakes. We even repeat the same mistakes. We’ve disconnected the word ‘mistake’ from the word ‘sin’ . . . a word that’s fallen out of our vocabulary. Both mean ‘missing the mark’ – I guess it rides on whose mark you miss. Miss your boss’s mark by screwing up, that’s a mistake. Miss God’s mark by disobedience, it’s a little more than a mistake. But either way, we blow it and it hurts. We’ll either recover or we won’t.
And how we recover matters.
In recent history, two examples stand out. One good, one not so good.
Chuck Colson was intimately involved in the Watergate break-in and the cover up that followed. He went to Federal prison for his ‘mistake’. But through Christ, Colson’s life was redeemed. He owned his mistake and his life gained meaning by his work with prisoners . . . with men and women who had made mistakes like he had. He founded Prison Fellowship which became the largest and most effective ministry to people serving sentences as a result of . . . mistakes. His legacy is positive and his impact for Jesus profound. Chuck Colson is defined by his recovery much more than his mistake.
On the other hand, there’s Lance Armstrong, the famous cyclist who finished ahead of everyone else in the Tour de France seven times. After years of lying and denying, Armstrong was finally cornered on his use of performance-enhancing substances. Today, he faces multiple lawsuits from sponsors trying to get their money back. His reputation is horrible, his value as a spokesman for anything or anybody is below zero, and his name has become synonymous with arrogance, cheating and deception. His legacy is yet to be defined, but barring a miraculous recovery via a massive dose of humility, Lance Armstrong will be defined by his mistake.
The beauty of the Gospel is how it enables all of us to recover from mistakes. We can grab hold of the grace offered us by Jesus, have our ‘mistakes’ covered by His sacrificial blood and then, by His Spirit, redeemed for the good of ourselves and others.
Is there a mistake you’ve allowed to define you? Will you instead choose to be defined by your recovery? Will you allow Jesus to redefine you from ‘sinful screw-up’ to ‘beloved, humble repentant son’? Will you trust God’s promise that all things (even your mistakes and your recovery from them) can “work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose”?1
If you live today defined by your recovery from a big mistake, tell us your story here.
1 (Romans 8:28)