The Purpose of Imperfection
By Bethany Becker
Do you know how useful imperfection is? I’ve found several uses for it in my own life. I use mistakes to prove that:
- I’m not as capable as other people
- I’m not as a good of a mom as other women
- I’m not worthy of deep relationships
- I should give up on a goal, since I’ve obviously failed
- I’ll never change; I’m the same old person I’ve always been
Not very helpful, huh? Imperfection grates at me. I may not be able to remember the birthdays of my in-laws, or what I needed at the grocery, but I can remember mistakes for years…decades! Tiny moments of poor judgement become an arsenal of regret that I can use to derail growth, goals, and relationships.
So many of us use imperfection as weapon, to tear ourselves down and keep us tied to the past. We keep memories as punishment for messing up. We refuse to pursue dreams because, as our mistakes have taught us, we cannot be trusted with those things. We hang on to shame as penance. We keep track of every wrong step, as if that will keep us from anymore slip-ups.
But here’s the thing: mistakes are unavoidable. Not only that, but they are a necessary ingredient in character development and learning new skills. How can we learn to see mistakes as something positive, or (gasp!) even as something helpful?
In the book of 1 Timothy, Paul gives us a different perspective on mistakes: as a witness to God’s unfailing love.
1 Timothy 1:16 says, “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His immense patience as an example for those who would believe in Him and receive eternal life.”
Jesus has “immense patience” with us when it comes to mistakes. I’m guessing that’s not your first thought when you make a mistake: “Ooooh, God is going to be soooo patient with me!” But He is! And there’s a purpose in His patience: so that His love and forgiveness for you can be displayed, and others will be drawn to Him.
Here’s the thing though: this only works if we accept His forgiveness and refuse to punish ourselves. We cannot preach the grace of God but live out self-condemnation. God offers forgiveness for our sins, as well as assistance in moving on from them. But if we follow that with a self-imposed binge of shame, then the message gets muddied. Who needs God if He’s just going to pile on guilt? I can do that on my own, thank you.
Want to learn how to re-purpose mistakes? Want to stop beating yourself up every time you make one? Want to, as my friend Jess says, turn mistakes into blessings? Read this little nugget from Paul in Philippians 3:13b-14: “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
First, forget what’s behind. You can’t change it, but God can redeem it. He can turn imperfections into lessons, guardrails, turning points, and lifesavers. Mistakes in our hands turn into weapons, but Jesus trades beauty for ashes.
Second, strain toward what is ahead. Strain is not a passive word…this takes work! Put energy into giving God your mistakes and moving on. Be diligent about spending time in the Bible, pray for wisdom on what to do next, and, when applicable, apologize. Owning up to our mistakes with God and others draws a line in the sand, declaring that we will not be controlled by our past. That kind of vulnerability brings humility (an underrated key to growth), and produce a beautiful witness of God’s perfect character.
Mistakes do not mean you’re beyond redemption or incapable of change. They mean you’re human, they mean you’re trying, they mean you’re normal. Give your imperfections to Jesus, and let them be redeemed.
He is immensely patient with us, in the midst of our mess. Take a deep breath and begin again.