The other night I was taught some major lessons in a chess game with a good mate. My conqueror said, in loving instruction, “Keep an eye on the whole board and watch out for the forks.” As I peeled back the many layers of my competitive spirit, I found something odd underneath. Failures and mistakes are a chance to learn. I should know this implicitly and yet it came home to me in a new way. As I played chess a second and third time (still losing), I took those lessons with me. Mistakes and failures are a chance to learn and grow, an opportunity. If I’d been more concerned about my pride and focused on the results I would have missed the gold that is found in our mistakes and failures.
The importance of this reminder for me is timely as we move to Cambodia. I’ll move from a culture where I can delude myself that I’m not making any mistakes. That ability to deceive myself of my abilities will be destroyed in a culture where I will make many, many, many mistakes and fail in very obvious ways (often with the locals laughing at me in a lovely sort of way). Mistakes and failures as opportunities means there’s a freedom to our learning and living. Failures and mistakes aren’t obstacles, but opportunities. In this sense there’s a real freedom in failing.
God in his wisdom has set up being saved by grace so that, after being saved, we don’t exist in this life of perfection (or need to aim for it). Instead grace means the causal link between our lives and salvation is severed. We are freed to fail. Not to aim at failing, but freed when we do. Freed from the condemnation that one wrong move may cost our eternity, or that the sum of our good will be weighed against our bad. There is a wonderful recklessness that frees us up, not fearing our failures, but learning from them. I’ll need this reminder as we learn to be Cambodian – there are things to learn from my mistakes and failures.