Was it Really a Mistake?

“A mistake is not something to be determined after the fact, but in the light of the information until that point.”

The above quote if from Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Taleb. He’s the guy who first came up with the black swan concept—everyone in Europe knew that there were no black swans until somebody went to Australia where they saw them. Was it a mistake to conclude that there were no black swans? If you said that after Australia it was a mistake, but before it was the best judgment available.

A Costly Mortgage

The church I pastored in Hawaii took a mortgage during a time of climbing interest rates. Almost immediately after we occupied the property rates fell hard. We thought we had locked in the best rate possible just before they took a tumble. Mistake? No! We had obtained the best rate possible at the time we made the decision. And, after rates fell, we were able to refinance.

We often make what we call mistakes based on available information. But, are they really mistakes if you decide based on your values, your convictions and the information available to you at the time? Taleb says, “No!” and I agree with him.

Ignoring Data

We once sent an extremely talented individual to plant a church while ignoring the data we had–that was a mistake. The person was good at everything but arrogant toward others. They made a farce of “jumping through the hoops” regarding the parameters we used for assessing potential planters. That church took off like a rocket then went bust over interpersonal problems. The pastor couldn’t stoop to empathize with the people. Looking back, it was apparent that we had good data but ignored it in favor of the very human abilities we saw in the person we should never have picked. We turned aside from the character-identification filters we’d gleaned from the Bible and it cost us. Worse, it hurt a bunch of people. A mistake indeed.

Don’t Beat Up on Yourself

So, here’s the deal. You make a decision rooted in your understanding of God’s word, your call and whatever information you have. The results go bust so you beat up on yourself and your team for the “mistake” you made. That is a dangerous path. It leads to shying away from bold, faith-filled decisions in the future.

The danger lies in confusing whatever biblical wisdom drove your decision with faulty, or inadequate, data was available when you made the choice. The point being that you might eliminate some valuable scriptural wisdom if you look at the decision as a mistake or failure.

So, don’t beat yourself up for things that went awry if you operate within the parameters of scriptural wisdom and best available information. Do repent if you traded godly values for short term gains that took you off your mark.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil (Proverbs 3:5-7 ESV).