Ever made a mistake? Right, who hasn’t.
Let’s think for a moment of our ability to learn from our mistakes. My understanding is, that when we accepted the plan that would eventually lead to our becoming like our Father, we were told that an important part of it is this: We have the ability to make value judgments and choose for ourselves – without coercion from Father – what we are going to do.
Inherent in this is our inability during mortality to remember our premortal existence, which in turn means that we will at times choose to do things contrary to our own long-term interest; even, at times, deliberately doing things that we know we shouldn’t do – more or less belligerently – or not doing things we know we should do (psychologists have labeled this “passive-aggressive” resistance – I have been told that’s what I do).
So, if we understand this (at least the fundamental aspects), what implications does that have for us?
First, we must remember that we are, at our best, very imperfect. The Apostle John went so far as to say in his general epistle to the Saints, “we all have sin, and if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). It would be hard to be more unequivocal about that. Yes, even when we do our best, we make mistakes – and when what we do is against the will of the Lord, it is called sin. And that makes us unworthy, or unclean, to be in the presence of God.
Second, we should remember, that despite that propensity to do the wrong things, we also have a way to get guidance from an intelligence higher than our own. We call that the influence of the Holy Ghost. Everybody is entitled to get guidance from the Holy Spirit, and those who commit themselves can have the Spirit be with us all the time – as long as we are able to receive it (remember, we will not be forced against our will, and if we disregard guidance, the Spirit will not keep arguing with us).
Third, since we all will err, we have been given a great gift by our Father and our Savior: The Savior’s Atonement makes it possible to make right the things that have gone wrong. There’s talk about the “mysteries” of God – I think one thing that will be a mystery to natural man is that Christ really did suffer the penalty, pay the price (whatever the phrase, the idea is the same), for our sins, making us clean again. I believe that the Atonement has such awesome power as to repair or compensate all things in this world that are wrong or unfair in any way. Just to think that God has promised not to remember our sins!
Fourth, we can learn from our mistakes. Elder Mark E. Petersen said in a mission conference I attended during my mission, that we shouldn’t worry about making mistakes. In fact, he said, if the mistakes we make are new ones (IOW, we don’t keep repeating the same ones over and over), we are doing extremely well. For a pedantic perfectionist like me that was a liberating discovery. I don’t have to be afraid to make a mistake – in fact, it would be worse to not try to do something for fear of making a mistake than to try and fail or make a mistake in the process. And I have found that even repeating the same mistake can serve to keep me humble – and finally get over it.
When my wife and I were set apart in our current calling to work with young adults, we were told that we should let them make mistakes, so they could learn. I have been thinking about that lately in the context of my own life, and I have been processing my thoughts about my own mistakes. There are things that I wish I hadn’t done. On the other hand, those things are a part of what I am today, and I see that I am going in the right direction in many ways. Because I have a tendency to be a perfectionist, I am painfully aware that there are many things I should learn to do better, of course. But that doesn’t diminish the joy I feel because I have felt the Lord’s forgiveness in my life; I have felt his power in changing me to a new kind of a person.
What I’d like to able to relate is that we all have hope. We can turn to our Heavenly Father, and, like Alma, say, “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death” (Alma 36:18). Perhaps we don’t feel as desperate as he did, but have just realized our own imperfection and inability to avoid errors. With his help, we can learn what we need and come out clean in the end.