Being Wrong

written by Kat Bair
3 · 22 · 24

Church leaders are great at nuance. Anyone who went to seminary, or has spent significant time in the church, has learned how to sit in gray areas, to accept the messy, complex, beautiful truth of God’s work in the world, to point to the Holy Spirit at all times. Pastors preach resurrection at funerals, life in the face of death, hope in the midst of sorrow, peace in the midst of division. 

But sometimes that leads us to a weird place. Because it means sometimes we won’t admit when things don’t work. It means that sometimes, because we are so good at identifying where God is still moving, we don’t acknowledge the practical reality that a program isn’t achieving what we hoped it would. Because we can embrace empathic understanding and compassion, we don’t know how to say that someone just didn’t do the job we hired them for. And sometimes that holds us back, not necessarily from some “achievement,” or from God’s will (God can make anything work), but from grace and thriving that we could have if we could be honest about what might need to change.  

It’s great to try new things, new ideas, new ventures, new programs. And it’s also ok to admit when they don’t work. Sometimes we make choices, and those choices weren’t the best ones available to us. And that’s ok. I was talking to a very wise church leader, innovator, and MINC colleague last night and told her that I had signed up for a responsibility that wound up being too much and that I was leaving. I told her, “I thought I could make it all work, and decided to give it a shot, but I think saying yes was a mistake, so I’m stepping back.”

She immediately countered with explaining that it wasn’t a mistake, that I hadn’t made the wrong choice, that I was just learning things, and I didn’t need to feel bad about it. But why can’t it be both? What if I can just own that something was the wrong choice and also not feel bad about it? What if making decisions about work, or home purchases, or whatever, didn’t always have moral value, and it was fine to just make a choice and then make a different one if the first one wasn’t working? 

As Christians, we do have strong convictions that guide our actions, we are called to pursue Christ, and that what we do in the world matters, because we are called to be imitators of Christ. And being imitators of Christ isn’t defined by being right all the time. 

I spend a lot of time with toddlers, and I watch them learn most everything kinetically. The only way a toddler learns the correct way to do something is by doing the incorrect way, lots and lots of times. And there is no shame in it. As much as toddlers have a reputation for being temperamental, I am often awed by how rarely they get frustrated, given their situation. One of my one year olds spends 5-10 minutes every day trying to put her own shoes on. She has never once been successful. But she doesn’t give up, as she misses her foot, drops the shoe, gets the angle wrong, over and over and over again. I wonder why she doesn’t get frustrated, and then I realized, it’s because she doesn’t operate with the assumption that she’s going to get it right the first time (or even the thousandth time). 

Think how much more patient you are trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle than you are when you’re fumbling for the right key. It’s not about the task, it’s about whether you have given yourself any allowance to not get it right the first time.

This week, where could you give yourself more space to admit things didn’t work. To approach problems like a jigsaw puzzle or a toddler putting on shoes, and see the hundreds of attempts and just little iterations, not failures we need to erase or hide from or feel shame about? 

Where can you just name something as a bad choice, a mistake, or something you’ve just outgrown, without beating yourself up about it? What would it look like or feel like to liberate yourself from the expectation that all of your decisions had to be the right ones? 

What would that give you the space to do? We are called to be faithful, not flawless. We are called to try, not to do everything perfectly. There was a social media post that went viral a few weeks ago that said:

I always love it when people say ‘baby steps!’ to imply they’re being tentative, when actually baby steps are a great unbalanced, wholehearted, enthusiastic lurch into the unknown.

@OliveFSmith

So may we take our baby steps, and may we be ok with falling, and may we see where it all takes us. 

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Kat Bair

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