Chaplain's thought for the week
Revd Tom considers the value of learning from past mistakes
I had a conversation with a friend last week who suddenly said to me, completely out of the blue, ‘I wish I could go back in time?’ ‘Why?’ I asked, thinking that they might wish to witness some interesting historical event or perhaps return to a happier moment in life. ‘Well,’ they said, ‘I wish I could go back and change some mistakes I’ve made.’
If you had the chance to go back in time and rectify an error, what would it be? Would it be academic? Or perhaps working harder at an instrument or a sport earlier on in life? Or perhaps take back some words you said in anger which have changed a relationship?
I’m sure that we can all easily think of things we’d do differently if we had the chance. Some of our pupils might well be considering this in light of their examination results as they receive their papers back.
The reality, of course, is that we can’t. Until someone invents a time machine, there is absolutely nothing we can do to change the past. It’s totally fixed. We can, however, learn from the past and allow it to influence the future. In fact, in some ways, we are the people we’ve become today because of our mistakes. If we don’t make them – and learn from them – then we’d be diminished.
In Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son, he tell the story of two sons. The younger asks for his share of the inheritance before his father dies, receives it and goes off to squander it all. Then he gets to that point where he wishes he could go back in time and reverse his foolish choice. He can’t, of course, so he decides to go back to his father, beg for forgiveness and asks to become one of his servants. He learns from his mistake, and is probably a much better son for it. The climax of the story is when the father, seeing him, runs to meet him, embraces him and forgives him. In that image of the forgiving father is a picture of God who is always willing to forgive.
We can learn from our mistakes, but we don’t need to be weighed down and crushed by them. We can let our mistakes go: they are in the past. One of the really important life tasks for most of us as human beings is to let go of the need for perfection. I’m not talking about perfectionism in relation to work, which some people in particular struggle with, but the desire which most of us have for our lives to be perfect, successful and without errors.
So perhaps if someone does offer you the chance to travel back in time and rectify an error, you’d be wise to respond: ‘No, thanks: I’m learning from that.’