I Need To Make My Own Mistakes

How often have you heard this line? “I need to make my own mistakes” is usually an excuse thrown out by adolescents (and adults who never grew out of adolescence) after an argument over behavior has been lost. They know intellectually that what they propose to do is wrong. They know intellectually that what they propose is harmful. Unfortunately, they had already decided in their heart to take that course of action before the conversation began, and human nature still demands its justification.

The line serves that purpose not because it’s a good justification, but because it’s an appallingly bad one. It is based on such poor assumptions that its hard for those on the receiving end to even get a handle on it on the fly, and yet it has become common enough that it passes without any application of critical thinking by those who use it. It survives by retaining one kernel of truth at the forefront: people often learn important lessons from their mistakes that they don’t learn any other way. So what is wrong with this particular application of that truth?

For starters, it seems to assume that mistakes are such rare opportunities that you need to take them before they pass you by forever. While I certainly wish my life were like that, the reality is very different. I make sufficient mistakes when I’m not trying to do so, and looking at the world around me, I don’t think I’m particularly exceptional in that regard. There’s no need to seize the moment on this one.

Secondly, they aren’t your own mistakes at all. These are usually the mistakes humanity has made for a very long time: associating with bad influences, fornicating, taking drugs, etc, etc. There aren’t any new mistakes here, and millenia of human experience have confirmed them as mistakes. The sad reality is that people only want to make their own mistakes when those mistakes are fun. It’s not mistakes or the corresponding life-lessons they seek, but pleasure. The only redeeming quality of mistakes is that we can learn from them. But if we know enough to recognize that it’s a mistake, we’ve learned enough already. If we already know what we’re supposed to learn, then what is the point? There remains no reason to make mistakes when the lesson has already been made readily available to us.

Do you truly want to make your own mistakes? Then learn from the wisdom of the many generations who went before you, do your best to avoid their mistakes, and live an examined life while seeking to love God and your neighbor. I guarantee that you will soon find yourself making mistake after mistake after mistake. But God is gracious. And from the surety of your forgiveness in Christ, those mistakes will be redeemed. Very soon you will learn real lessons without choosing to sin.

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