The question is not what should we do if we make a mistake, but when we make a mistake. Mistakes are normal, but that doesn't mean we should ignore the issue. Here are 7 things to do to restore your life and relationships when you realize you've made a mistake.
1. Own It
No one likes to be wrong or to make a mistake. The experience is uncomfortable and wounds our pride. Pride often leads to denial, pretending it didn't happen, making excuses, or avoiding the situation which resulted from our mistake.
If we are to respond appropriately to our mistakes, the first thing we must do is accept responsibility. We are responsible for our actions, no matter the intention behind them.
When I was in high school, I worked at a fast-food restaurant. As would occasionally happen, I wrung up a promotion incorrectly. The person was livid with me for the overcharge that resulted. While their response to my mistake was excessive, I had to make a decision. I could either blame it on the customer, proclaiming they weren't clear with their order, or I could admit that I indeed made a mistake.
The above is a simple example, but depending on when and how the mistake occurs, you may have only a moment to determine your response before being confronted. Had I chosen denial at that moment, the problem could have escalated quickly and resulted in consequences beyond correcting the charge on the cash register.
Admitting we are responsible for making a mistake is crucial in our response to making a mistake.
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2. Confess it to God.
Part of realizing you've made a mistake is taking steps to restore the relationships damaged by that mistake. The very first relationship you should restore is with God. He knows you will make mistakes, but there is nothing you can do to make Him love you any less or any more than He always has. No matter the mistake, He offers you forgiveness every single time through Jesus Christ.
I find doing this step before taking any other provides peace, clarity, and strength for what comes next. Even if the mistake is small and not the result of sin, coming to Him first invites Him into your life and strengthens the relationship you have with Him. It allows Him to work within you to identify other hidden problems that even a small mistake might expose. I know there have been times when I've made a mistake but did not feel sincere regret for making that mistake. Usually, that is a sign that I've got something to work on with God.
I encourage you to have a conversation with God. Confess your mistake, ask for help in repenting sincerely, and seek wisdom on how to move forward.
"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)
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3. Confess it to the person or people who the mistake affected.
While it may seem easy for you to confess your mistake to God and then sweep everything under the rug, you are called to seek restoration with those affected. This means humbling yourself, going before that person—face-to-face, if possible—and confessing your mistake to them without making excuses. That second part is the hardest part for me. Whenever I make a mistake that requires me to go before someone else to confess, I want to save face and explain why it happened and make excuses. However, even in our confession to others, we need to accept responsibility for the mistake.
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Restoring your relationship with the person affected by your mistake doesn't end at a confession. Without an apology, a confession will fall flat and fail to achieve its goal.
When my children apologize for something, they are not allowed just to say, "I'm sorry." We require our children to say, "I'm sorry for (action). It was wrong because (ownership in the problem/consequences of the mistake). In the future, I will (plan of restoration). Will you forgive me?" You may not need to use that exact phraseology in your apology, but the structure helps to bring a sense of genuine repentance. Hopefully, your apology is genuine.
However, there are times when an apology is required before you have had time to reach that point of true repentance. These are the times when you apologize anyway. Ask my boys. They've done this many times. When apologizing before your heart is truly ready, check your tone and body language as you deliver the apology, and then continue to work through your attitude with God's help afterward.
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5. Seek restoration.
Did you notice the second to last sentence of the apologies my boys give? "I will (plan of restoration). If possible, you need to correct your mistake or make a plan on how not to make that mistake in the future.
One morning while driving to my high school, I made the mistake of taking my eyes off the road during a curve. I ran over and demolished someone's trash can. Praise the Lord that is all the damage that occurred, but I left a note for the still sleeping resident with my phone number. I made my apologies, replaced the can, and even though I did not know them, was a witness to Christ through my response. When I confessed what happened to my parents, I made the restoration plan of not adjusting the radio while driving.
I always find that people are more receptive to your apology if it includes a plan on how to make things right as best you can.
However, there are times when this is not possible. A teen in our area made the unfortunate decision to drag race, resulting in the death of three people. There was nothing he could do to bring those people back to their family. In situations where restoration is not possible, you will need to walk through the process with God. Take the mistake you made, the lesson you learned, and turn it into a service for those in the community. I don't know what happened to that young man beyond the trial, but he has an opportunity to take what he has learned and to share his story with other teens as a cautionary tale.
Restoration may not always be possible or look like we think it should, but it is important to make every attempt possible to correct your mistake.
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6. Accept the consequences.
Very rarely is a mistake made without some consequence. Part of accepting responsibility for your actions is accepting the consequences that go with them. I was late for school because I chose to stop and leave a note on the owner's door. I paid for the trash cans out of my meager pay and took the time to pick up and deliver the trash can despite it meaning I missed out on something fun I'd planned for after school. How you respond to your mistake's consequences can be a witness for Christ, so consider carefully not only your outward response but also your inward response.
Consequences can extend beyond monetary and time sacrifices. Even if you sincerely apologize and make restoration, a person may choose not to extend you forgiveness. Forgiveness is a work of heart. They may need to work through the situation on their own with Christ's help before they can extend forgiveness. Some people will never offer forgiveness, but after having confessed, apologized, and made restoration where possible, you have done all you can do. Be humble and contrite in your future exchanges with them, and do not hold their unforgiveness against them. Your long-term, respectful response to the situation may be a witness to them.
"People don't despise the thief if he steals to satisfy himself when he is hungry. Still, if caught, he must pay seven times as much; he must give up all the wealth in his house." (Proverbs 6:30-31)
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7. Forgive yourself.
If you are like me, it is challenging to let your past mistakes go. However, this is as critical a step as any other thing listed above. God has already forgiven you through the blood of Christ. If God, who has every right to hold every sin and mistake against you can forgive AND forget it, why should you continue to cling to it? Whenever you are reminded of your mistake, take your thoughts captive, and speak the Word of Truth. You are not perfect, but you are forgiven. Carry the lesson you learned forward, but leave the guilt and shame behind.
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come." (2 Corinthians 5:17)
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Originally published Thursday, 01 October 2020.