Where We Get it Wrong at First

I sent my students home to write a sentence the other day. Just one sentence.

“Why?” one girl asked.

“So we can fix it when you bring it back tomorrow.”

“How do you know it will need fixed?”

“Because there is no chance you will get it perfect the first time. No chance, whatsoever.”

“How do you know?” she demanded. “I could be a brilliant writer, and you wouldn’t know.”

I see this for the ploy that it is: the idea of re-working a sentence on a piece of writing that the student doesn’t care about appears to be gratuitous work–work for work’s sake–and being seniors, they’ll have none of that.

Of course, it’s not work for work’s sake.

I respond instead with something about T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland having a well-documented chain of drafts, and that if Mr. Thomas Sterns Eliot himself couldn’t escape re-writes, then neither can we.

And frankly, if you don’t know The Wasteland, (which she didn’t) then she wasn’t qualified to judge writing or drafts.

But that’s not the point.

The point is that none of us, EVER, get it perfect–or even get it right–the first time.

I had a conversation with a brother Sunday morning about something in our shared ministry that I didn’t feel had gone particularly well.

Talk about re-writes.

We had to rewrite the conversation in the middle of it: we had to start over when the initial approach did more to raise defensive walls than it did to open the gates to unity and learning.

We had to throw out the introduction of 5 minutes ago and get a new one whose opening line was Love.  We needed to lead with a reminder that we are on the same team and that we believe in each other.

A reminder that we were coming from a place of hope: We say the hard things because we believe we are loved and we know they will bring, somehow, new truth, peace, and freedom.

Then we re-trace our steps when the hard thing starts as the harsh thing.

We rewrite.

We hear each other not because we got the words right, but because we showed up to the page.

If we didn’t show up, then there’s no chance Peace and Truth would, either.

No chance, whatsoever.


“There has to be grace for us when we don’t get it right,” he pleaded.

There is grace. The grace is in this conversation, rough as it’s going. Grace is saying the hard thing.  

The grace is in calling attention to the broken things instead of bailing in frustration.

But the grace doesn’t mean there isn’t frustration. And grace doesn’t mean burying that frustration so that we don’t have the discomfort of facing it.

You see, we had no chance of getting that right the first time.

No chance, whatsoever.


“But last year, it would have been ok for us to do that. You would have been ok with that,” he challenged.

That’s true. It did work before. I was ok with that.

But we are writing a new story this year.

It’s hard to remember the adventure is new because we still have the same address. We’re still at “home” with our Family. But the new story, for us, is going to come in the major re-model we’re doing on the house.

We had to do that because people grew and new people moved in.

We are keeping the same structure, but everything is different. We’ve put on a couple additions and knocked out a few walls. When the interior plan is different, we can’t claim the same rooms anymore. The old rooms aren’t even there. The rooms are now different sizes and different colors, and we have to shuffle the furniture so that everything fits.

It turns out, as much as we want to be home, we’re not yet moved-in from the re-model. 

The other day, I ended up with stuff in my room that didn’t belong in there. I was aggravated because I thought we had decided  we were putting it someplace else. And because I stubbed my toe on it. I wasn’t surprised to see the stuff; it made sense.  That’s where we’d always put it.  But, if that’s where the stuff goes, then maybe I have the wrong room. It’s not my stuff.  It might be that  we have to change our plans for the stuff, but we’ll have to live with it a while to find out.

The thing is, re-models are messy.

And having to live in the House while we re-model it means we have to live with chaos and clutter until we have room to put it all away. We are going to be in each other’s way.   We are going to stub our toes in the dark. Our stuff will be out of place until the work in that part of the house is complete. 

And we can have grace on the clutter and chaos and imposition, not because we believe the remodel will be done soon, but because we know the remodel will one day be finished. Because we have hope that the Good Work that began will be carried to Completion.

A remodel on this scale means we have to re-write our assumptions. We need to take careful inventory of all the furniture and evaluate whether its all in the best place. We need to purge what we don’t need. We need to make a plan to get what we still need.

And we have to be vigilant about getting things into the right rooms as soon as we can. Because we can get used to living with things in the wrong place.

That rolled-up rug leaning in the corner starts to become part of the walls, almost, but the floor it’s supposed to grace is finished and ready for it now.

We can’t assume the rug goes in the room it always did, and we can’t leave it in the corner.

And we may learn, over time, it’s better in another room after all. So we’re willing to move it.

This old house

We’ve heard the saying “a place for everything, and everything in it’s place.” There is no chance, in this transition, that work is all done.

No chance, whatsoever.

Truth doesn’t come from saying the right words at the right time.

Freedom doesn’t come from planning so well there isn’t any difficulty–from accounting perfectly from everything in advance.

Peace doesn’t come from having everything in its place.

There’s no chance–no chance whatsoever–that we could do all that anyway.

Truth comes after experience reveals the flaws in our accounting.  After failure grounds our plans and theories in the real work of today.

Freedom comes when we are able to live without the pressure of getting it right the first time. 

Peace comes in the healing and humility of the re-write. 

And Grace comes when we embrace the strikethroughs, tears, apologies, ransacking, and relocating for what they are: beautiful gifts from a Father who loves us and Who is at work for our good and His glory.


Add yours →

  1. Jessica,
    “The grace is in calling attention to the broken things instead of bailing in frustration.
    But the grace doesn’t mean there isn’t frustration. And grace doesn’t mean burying that frustration so that we don’t have the discomfort of facing it.”
    I love this!
    I had a week of frustration recently, the kind of frustration where my whole being was irritated as if there was a burr under my saddle…and there was. It was my heavenly Father claiming my attention. But I buried the frustration and kept trying to work through the issues without taking my blinders off.
    I love the view point that it IS grace when He calls attention to my brokenness – and I am soooo broken!
    Thank you for your ability to share the beauty found in our messes when Christ is with us!

  2. Jess, whenever I miss you or feel a little empty and need guidance, I find your blog. Reading your thoughts and beautiful way of making me feel that it’s okay to mess up and that I am loved and given grace anyways, as well as tips for what I can do/how to be a stronger Christian through this messy life always makes me feel better and closer to you!!! Love you and thanks for posting!!! 🙂

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