Finding Grace in Our Brokenness:
How God Handles Our Mistakes
by Lori Ann Wood
I had no risk factors and no family history, but I had early warning signs of heart failure—shortness of breath, inability to exercise, fatigue.
For years, my family urged me to go to the doctor. I wish I could tell you I listened to them, that I swallowed my middle-aged pride, that I went to my trusted family physician, or that I shared completely and honestly during my annual exams. I did none of those things. And that error damaged my heart and shortened my life.
Living with that mistake (which, conveniently, has the word failure built right in) has taught me another valuable lesson: Mistakes eventually make us safer, braver, stronger. Once we recover and course correct, we learn what not to do, how to be resilient, and ways to survive future blows. Author Kathryn Schulz, in her book Being Wrong, says, “It is ultimately wrongness, not rightness, that can teach us who we are.”*
And I’d add whose we are.
Are we alone in this mistake-prone venture? Or do we belong to Someone who’s in control despite our errors?
Mistakes reveal the soul’s need for God.
While mistakes don’t define our identity, they do lay a foundation for the only relationship that should. Mistakes make us dependent on him. It is our very imperfection that brings us to the cross. This mindset removes the burden of faults from our days and from our destiny. As writer Scott Hubbard reminds us, “God’s ‘well done’ says less about the worth of our works than about the wonder of his mercy.”**
Weighed by the metric of mercy, grace can morph mistakes into majesty. Because grace is the opposite of what is logical—the opposite of what should be.
Failures reveal the soul’s need for God.
When Jonah ran from God, when he chose not to do what he should have done, God had a fish swallow him. But Jonah did not die. In fact, he survived because of it. The fish, rather than devouring him, saved him (see Jonah 1–2). Maybe what Jonah learned best that day was this: When God is involved, salvation can look like not being consumed by that which should consume you.
An early taste of grace.
Like me, Jonah spent years running. God used Jonah’s mistake to save Nineveh, and ultimately, to save Jonah from himself. And the very disease that should have consumed me has, in many ways, saved me too.
Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery in a unique way. Instead of making the breaks less visible or trying to mend the piece as if it had never been broken, this art form exalts the breaks. The pottery is restored with lacquer and the cracks are dusted with gold. The result is stunning and unique, the opposite of a useless, broken vessel. In much the same way, our mistakes create space for grace. Author Donald Miller put it this way: “Grace only sticks to our imperfections.”***
Decades ago, I wouldn’t have believed it: We are more beautiful and useful in his kingdom with imperfections, with our breaking points defined, with our past mistakes highlighted.
Our mistakes create space for grace.
We error-averse believers must know that the only way we can stop the mistakes is to stop living. But we also know a God with a pretty impressive resume of turning broken into beautiful, doubt to truth, darkness to light, and death to life. In the Father’s careful hands, my painful disease will one day become the opposite of what it seemed. And he’ll do the same for your secret addiction, your financial faux pas, even your relationship regrets.
His touch has created the opposite of what should be: Disobedient Jonah survived. My post-diagnosis faith is thriving. I just finished a book I had always planned to write. But in a safer, healthier life, I had never made it a priority.
I’m not who I was before. In many ways, as I enter year six of a five-year prognosis, I’m just the opposite. A younger me was trying to substitute my own “rightness” for his.
I’m learning that accepting grace overshadows the fear of failure. And in the grip of that grace, I’m watching my mended life become the opposite of what it really should be. Like that broken pottery restored with gold, I’m better now than I was then. Not because I’ve overcome my imperfections, but because I’ve embraced their cure.
Heart failure survivor Lori Wood writes to empower others to ask difficult faith questions. @loriannwood
*Kathryn Schulz, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error (New York: Ecco, 2010), 6.
**Scott Hubbard, “Am I Really a Christian? Lessons from John Owen on Assurance,” Desiring God, February 18, 2021, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/am-i-really-a-christian.
***Donald Miller, Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2014), 45.