Several years back I was working on a small newspaper. We had just sent our most recent issue to the printer and the finished product had just arrived and someone brought a copy to my office.
The typo on the front page was the first thing I saw when it landed on my desk.
I don’t know how many times we had proofed that issue, but a mistake had somehow slipped through. And there it was glaring at me. Though it was years back I still remember the distinctive purple color that accentuated this particular cover.
The last place you want to see a mistake is on the cover.
After looking at it for several minutes, those feelings that had haunted me for years started welling up inside me.
I needed to punish myself and say how stupid I was for allowing this mistake to happen. I didn’t think these thoughts, I said them out loud. Typically I yelled at myself how stupid I was when these type of things happened.
I wanted to take that mistake and personalize it. It was more than just a typo on the front cover, I needed to go beyond that and say I was the mistake. I was an idiot. I was the stupid fool that allowed this to happen.
But as those old feelings rose up inside me, the Holy Spirit also began to move. God did not want me to hate myself. God wanted to break this pattern that had ruled my life for years.
There was a power struggle going on inside. As I walked to my car after work, it had not yet been determined who was going to win that day.
As I sat in the parking lot, the battle heated up. I desperately wanted to call myself stupid, but the Holy Spirit was also there saying it was a lie. I probably sat in the car for nearly an hour with part of me wanting to spew hatred and the Holy Spirit saying don’t do it.
Incredibly, it was one of the scariest things I ever went through. The fears surged inside me because for years I had verbally beat myself up when I made a mistake and in some obscene way it brought me comfort as I dutifully punished myself for what I had done.
Now God was saying don’t do it, because it is a lie. I wasn’t a mistake. I wasn’t an idiot.
Thankfully, God won the battle that day in the car. It became a water shed moment for me as God broke the power the fear of making mistakes had over me.
It is not that I haven’t had slip ups since then as I fall back into the old patterns, but God is changing me. But for years, I had been believing a lie, because the Bible says that we are not idiots, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). And in fact, the writer of the Psalm was thanking God for who he was.
In order to succeed we have to be willing to make mistakes and we must be able to treat them as they really are, just mistakes. They say nothing more about you. We learn from them and move on. If we don’t do this, these mistakes will begin to control us.
Researchers led by George Buzzell of the University of Maryland recently published a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry that concluded social anxiety disorder is rooted in the fear of making mistakes.
In the study they analyzed 107, 12-year old, children who at a younger age experienced behavior inhibition temperament. This is characterized by timidity, shyness, withdrawal, negativity and unwillingness to respond to new situations and people.
The study involved monitoring their brain activity as they participated in tests that looked at how well they were able to focus on activities that they were doing. They performed two tests and in one instance were told they would be watched and in the other instance that they wouldn’t be observed.
By monitoring brain activity, the researchers saw a connection between social behavior and fear of making mistakes.
In an interview with PsyPost, Buzzel said:
“One of the mechanisms through which social anxiety arises is an excessive focus on one’s self, and one’s perceived mistakes, in social situations. For individuals with social anxiety, this excessive focus on one’s perceived mistakes distracts/detracts from the ongoing social interaction.”
Their preoccupation or fear of making a mistake actually hindered them.
This fear of making mistakes is one of the major lessons that came out Jesus’s parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). The master was leaving on a long journey and he gave three slaves talents to invest while he was gone. He gave one man five talents, another two and the last one.
The men with the five and two talents, took risks, invested the money and doubled the master’s investment. But the man with one talent was so consumed about making a mistake, investing it wrong, that he buried it the ground and waited for the master’s return.
He feared failure:
24 “And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. 25 And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’ (Matthew 25: 24-25 NASV)
He was so scared of making a mistake that he was paralyzed. He couldn’t do anything. He was indecisive and didn’t know what to do. Procrastination is another indicator you fear failure.
The slave was so controlled by a fear of failure that he couldn’t even do the obvious and put the talent in the bank and let it collect interest.
The major lesson from this parable is this: if you fear making mistakes, you will never succeed.
Jesus’s message is that God does not want the fear of mistakes to control us. We are going to make mistakes that is part of life. We have treat to them for what they are.
Don’t let your mistakes define you or your fear of mistakes control you.