The Spiritual Practice of Making Mistakes
My friend Howard recently completed a major feat: running a half-marathon, which is an impressive 13.1 miles.
As a formerly overweight kid in high school who could barely manage to jog a mile without collapsing, this was a huge accomplishment and a major milestone in the journey of Howard’s spiritual and personal growth.
But I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard that for the entire ten weeks leading up to this historic event, Howard’s pedometer had miscalculated the number of miles he was training. He thought he had built up to a regimen of thirteen miles, but in reality, he was only running eleven. The pedometer was off by two miles.
Only he didn’t find out until he was actually running the race.
So, picture it: there’s Howard at the starting line, all jittery and excited to finally be running with the big boys at his very first official race, this insane event that will drive his body beyond anything he has ever imagined possible, and the starting gun goes off.
Howard pushes off the pavement, merging with the massive crowd of elbows and sweat and pounding feet. He keeps up his confidence with positive self-talk, telling himself he has trained properly, he knows how to pace himself, he is prepared, he utilized the correct technology.
After a few minutes, Howard checks his trusty pedometer. Great! First mile down, just as he suspected. Except, where is the first mile marker? He looks up the road ahead, to his left, his right.
Where is it?
Where? Where? Where????
An excruciating two-tenths of a mile later, he finally sees the first mile marker. It does not synch up with what his pedometer says. And then it dawns on Howard: he hasn’t trained properly at all.
He does a quick calculation in his head: .2 miles x 13 miles = 2.6 extra miles. He has never actually run 13 miles in his life!
This is what we might call a Defining Moment.
Howard could have panicked, shut down, and puked all over the side of the road.
He could have said “forget it,” blamed the technology and bashed his lousy pedometer into smithereens on the pavement.
He could have told himself he was really an incompetent idiot who didn’t deserve to run the race with all those other well-trained, better-looking, and legitimate runners.
He could have rationalized the miscalculation as an excuse to give up.
But he didn’t do any of these things.
Instead, he finished the race.
Howard continued running with the not-so-comfortable knowledge that he would have to suck it up and do the two point six extra miles, even though he was not fully prepared. Even if it would hurt a little bit. Or a lot. He made the decision go with it, to do his best with what he had to work with, and finish the race.
There are so many metaphors layered into this little story, I don’t even know where to begin.
Look, we all make mistakes. Or we find ourselves in the middle of difficult situations, in spite of our best intentions.
The projector goes on the fritz during the most important presentation of your life.
You overlook that one important detail.
Someone else gets credit for your work.
You forget to bring the documents that everyone was counting on.
But that doesn’t mean that you pack up and go home. Instead, you reach down deep inside to a place you didn’t even know existed, and you find the strength to deal with it, to keep going, to fix it.
This, of all places, is where you are most likely to meet God in the midst of your work.