The best way to correct a mistake is to smother it with mercy.
“Blessed [are] the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). Mankind by nature has often not been merciful through the ages of time to his fellow man. That is why we need to know how God strongly desires for us to understand the quality of mercy in our world. It is by God’s transforming grace that we can understand how mercy will be a basic trait in the kind of people who will inherit the kingdom of God.
We all make misteaks (oops, mistakes). How do we respond to our own mistakes? And how do we respond to the mistakes of others? Responding in a godly way is a vital part of Christian character.
The proverb, “to err is human, to forgive divine,” has been popular since the 14th century. Yes, we all need erasers on our pencils. We make mistakes aplenty. But then what? How we handle those mistakes and the mistakes of others can determine how well we do in life, and how God responds to us when we need mercy .
This was brought home to me recently when my daughter, Michelle David, shared a horrible experience that she witnessed in a store while shopping.
Michelle passed a little girl pushing a buggy. She was so little she could hardly see over the buggy. Her mother was down the isle looking at products. Suddenly Michelle heard a loud bang. Turning, all she could see was a mass of cookies flying everywhere. The little girl’s mom ran down and screamed at her. You could hear the mother’s voice all over the store. The little girl, mortified at what she had caused by running her buggy into the cookies, stooped down to help her mom pick up the cookies. Once again her mother yelled at her and said, “Don’t help, you have already done enough damage!”
The little girl cried. She kept telling her mom, “It was accident”. But her mother was hearing none of it and kept on yelling. As the two left the store, the daughter still sobbing, the mother still yelling, Michelle could just make out the little girl crying, “hugsie, mommy, hugsie.” But all she received was more yelling and scolding.
My daughter’s story brought back memories of a huge mistake I once made. Several years ago I worked in a curtain factory as a cutter, cutting the material to be sewn into curtains. Stan, my boss at the time, was a patient and kind man who would take much time in training and helping his employees to succeed on their jobs. I was to learn later what a truly great boss he was.
One day was particularly productive for me. Everything seemed to go right. I must have cut 500 shower curtains, setting a record for me. Needless to say, at the end of the day I left for home very pleased.
But a couple of days later a bomb fell! The curtains I cut went on to the sewing section to be hemmed before moving on to the packers. It was discovered that the curtains were two inches too short. I had forgotten to change the drum they were cut on to the correct size. So now, sitting on the racks, waiting to be packaged, were 500 shower curtains, all of which were too short! I was mortified, because in that year--1993--a shower curtain retailed for at least $10.00.
My boss Stan, spent most of the morning in a meeting with management over the situation. While I sat out in the plant crying over my stupid mistake, management was discussing my fate. I felt terrible because my mistake had cost the company a great deal of money, and I would probably be fired. Instead, to my surprise and great relief, my boss fought for me. Management only saw the money lost for their company. Stan, my boss, saw me as a valued employee who had made a mistake but was worth keeping instead of being thrown away. And he did not stop there. Knowing how I felt, he came out after the meeting to encourage me. He told me this was not the worst thing that would happen to me in life, and that I would get through it.
While encouraging me, he began to help me rip out the hems so they could be re-hemmed at a longer length. The curtains ended up at Odd Lots, a bargain store, so the company was able to regain some of its losses.
I have a great memory of a very merciful boss, but what kind of will the little girl in the grocery store remember when she’s older? Will it be the kind of memory I had concerning my boss? No-- probably not! And how will she look at God in times when she falls short and needs forgiveness? Will she only expect a harsh God with no mercy?
Just imagine how mortified we would feel if when we fall short or make a mistake only to be rejected by God. We reach up to our Father for forgiveness, only for Him to scream at us and totally ignore us? Thankfully our Father in Heaven is not like that.
Lessons I learned
Be humbled in dealing with yourself and others. Be humble and don't look down on others when they make a mistake and are truly sorry. That is where being merciful comes in.
Though it seemed like a nightmare at the time, I learned some valuable lessons that day from the merciful treatment I received from Stan. What lessons did the little girl in the grocery store learn? Which one of these examples will point our children and others to God in His handling of us?
Ask God to give you a merciful heart. All good gifts come from God, so why not go to the source to obtain a merciful, empathic heart?
Don’t Correct in Public!
The little girl’s mom belittled her and embarrassed her in front of everyone! Treat others in a way that you would like to be treated. No one wants to be embarrassed in front others. Do the correction in love and in private
Forgive – and give people another chance!
The little girl wanted forgiveness and encouragement from her mom, and to make amends by helping clean up. Her mother refused all three!
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” Ephesians 4:32; New International Version) . And “A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11, New International Version).
“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).
God is always there with open arms to accept us and forgive us. While dying on the cross, Christ forgave His enemies. While they spat on Him, He prayed , “Father, forgive them, for they no not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).
So how do we handle another person's mistakes? Do we use our authority to crush or to build up a person? How do we handle our own mistakes? Do you feel like giving up or do we forgive ourselves, learn from our mistakes and move on? Mike Ditka, a famous coach, once said, “You are never a loser until you quit trying.”
Only punish for rebellion, not a genuine mistake!
Avoid punishing yourself and others when mistakes are made. Stan did not punish me; he knew that I was already doing that to myself. He could have fired me. He could have given my job to someone else. He could have belittled me. Instead, he forgave my mistake and looked for gentle ways to ensure it wouldn’t happen again. When working with your children, be very slow punish over an accident! Rebellion, yes, but not…over a true accident. Never reject your child when they need to be comforted, and especially when they are trying to say they are sorry. Treat yourself in the same way. Forget it and move on! And certainly be merciful to others.
Be an encourager!
Encourage others when they make a mistake. Sadly the mother failed miserably in reaching out to her mortified child. This could have been a great teaching moment in love and encouragement to her daughter. On the other hand, Stan’s fighting for me, speaking kindly to me, and pitching in to help me fix the mess greatly encouraged me and made me want to try even harder to be a good employee.
Treat others as God treats us.
He knows our frame and how weak we are. He did not call the mighty of the world, but people He could gently work with. He called people who know they are weak without Him.
God sees what we can become instead of focusing on our mistakes. He lifts us up and encourages us to go on. He does not get rid of us, scream at us, reject us, or replace us with someone else. God gives us chance after chance as long as we have a repentant heart and keep trying. That sums up a lot about God's mercy and tenderness toward us.
God instructs us on how to deal with each other as he deals with us: "Therefore, as [the] elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, long-suffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also [must do]”(Col 3:12-13).
So the next time a child… or someone you know makes a mistake, be gentle, kind and encouraging. Look for ways to solve the problem and don't quit! Treat others the way you would want to be treated if you were the one who goofed. Keep learning. Keep forgiving. We can all be in God's Kingdom some day in spite of our mistakes. Most of all, be merciful to your children and those around you when they make a mistake.
Always remember how God looks at all of us when mistakes are made and treat others accordingly. “Like as a father pities [his] children, [So] the LORD pities those that fear him. For he knows our frame; He remembers that we [are] dust. But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting…” (Psalm 103:13-14, 17).
“Blessed [are] the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
For more information on how to improve your relationships with other people, and all aspects of life, read our Bible study aid Making Life Work .