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.
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.
The curtains that I cut went on to the sewers to be hemmed before going on to the packers. A couple of days later the bomb fell! It was discovered that the curtains were two inches too short. I had forgotten to change the drum that they were cut on to the correct size. The sewers didn’t catch the mistake either. Here on 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 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 so bad that I had cost the company a great deal of money because of this huge mistake, 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. He did not stop there but, 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 this.
While encouraging me he began to help me rip out the hems so they could be rehemmed 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.
Lessons I learned
Though it seemed like a nightmare at the time, I learned some valuable lessons that day from Stan.
Be humble and don’t look down on others when they make mistakes. Stan did not belittle me and make me feel worse than I already did. He refrained from making statements to me like, “How could you do this?,” “You cost the company tons of money” or “How many times have I told you?” Instead, he built me up and built me up to the managers in the meeting. Stan was able to take my focus and management’s focus off the mistake and on to the good contributions I gave to the company.
Look for ways to help a person solve the mistake. Stan got right in there and helped me solve the problem. He first fought for me to keep my job and then came out and worked side by side with me ripping out the hems in the curtains.
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 avoid this happening again. He gave me another chance.
Encourage others when they make a mistake. Stan encouraged me by saying, “Janet, you will get through this. I know you; you will do better and not let this happen again. We all fail from time to time; we just get back up and go on.” Stan spoke those words to me while I wept. His encouragement was able to turn my emotions around from feeling shame and worthlessness to a valued person despite the mistake. He helped me to see that this was a small thing in life and that mistakes happen to all of us. Most of all Stan used his power of authority to get me back up and going again, not to crush me. Stan showed me by his example that I was of more value than the money that was lost by the company.
So how do you handle another person’s mistakes? Do you use your authority to crush or to build up a person? How do you handle your own mistakes? Do you feel like giving up or learning from your mistakes and moving on? I felt like a failure and felt I could not get back up and go on. I wanted to quit, but my boss would not let me. Mike Ditka, a famous coach, once said, “You are never a loser until you quit trying.”
Treat others as God treats us
God is the same way with 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 or replace us with someone else. God gives us chances after chances as long as we have a repentant heart and keep trying. That sums up a lot about God’s grace, and it is by His grace that we have hope of salvation and eternal life! For a thorough outline of God’s relationship to and plan for mankind, please request or download the booklet Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion. It, like all our literature, is free for the asking.
In Colossians 3:12-13 Colossians 3:12-13  Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering;
 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do you.
American King James Version×, 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, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another…” Stan did that for me. I became one of the best cutters the company ever had. There was nothing I would not do for my boss. I continued to work for him until they closed the plant. I was one of the last employees out of 200 to be laid off when the plant closed several years later.
God deals with you and me the same way Stan dealt with me. God invests a lot of time in us and is not ready to wipe us out because of our mistakes. Instead, He encourages us not to quit.
So the next time you 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. Look beyond the mistakes in yourself and in others and see the potential. We will all say the words, “Oops, I made a mistake,” many times before we reach our full potential. But keep trying. Keep learning. Keep forgiving. We can all be in God’s Kingdom some day in spite of our mistakes.