I have a confession to make. It’s something I hate to admit. Every once in a while, though quite rarely, just occasionally, but every now and again…I make a mistake.
Ok, just kidding. I make a lot of mistakes. On some occasions I even screw up royally.
The reality is that for every one of us, we mess up occasionally. Sometimes in big ways and other times with minor things that cause no more than temporary annoyances or inconvenience in our lives or the lives of those around us. Striving for perfection is laudable. Expecting it is laughable. That’s just not the human condition.
Fixing the Unfixable
So, when you make mistakes you can have two reactions: despair or hope. Naturally, you should try to correct yourself, undo the damage, or make restitution whenever possible. But sometimes it’s beyond your ability.
Fulton Sheen made a beautiful analogy when he talked about original sin. Like a musician that deliberately struck a wrong note, that note traveled at the speed of sound through time and space, unable to be retracted. The band would play on but that discord would always remain, traveling through eternity. The only way to deal with it was if someone from outside of time and space arrested that note to begin a new symphony. That’s what Jesus did on the cross…He arrested that original discord…and every discord since then and those yet to come, nailed it to the wood, and began a new and more beautiful symphony.
But as comforting as that analogy may be, in practical terms, what are you to do when you make mistakes? When you can’t take them back or fix the damage, how should you deal? Is there a prayer you should pray?
St. Therese gave us the answer. I’ve tried it and can tell you first hand that it works…and works amazingly well. It’s a two-part prayer followed by one simple action.
But before I share it I’d like you to remember an important scripture and accept it as fact (because it is):
All things work together for good for those who love God (Romans 8:28).
That includes your mistakes and even your major league screw-ups. Don’t believe that? Then consider the fact that the biggest mistake/sin/crime ever committed was killing the Son of God on a cross. It can’t get any bigger than that. But because of that, we were freed from death. The wounds of sin in us could be healed. The gates of heaven were opened to us. The worst sin brought about the greatest miracle.
So, what should you do after a mistake that you can’t correct on your own? St. Therese used a three-step prayer formula:
Step One: Jesus, repair what I’ve done badly.
Recognize that after you’ve tried everything you can to fix things yourself, there are times when it’s beyond your control. But it is never beyond God’s. Think about that. He created the Universe. He healed lepers. He raised Lazarus. He rose from the dead. He used the jealousy and arrogance of the Pharisees, the anger of the Romans, and even the weakness of the apostles to bring about redemption. He can handle or bring good from whatever it is you did or neglected to do. It may not be immediate, but with faith, trust, and good will, he will work it out for good as well.
Step Two: Supply for what I’ve left undone.
Sometimes your mistakes are not things you have done but important things you may have neglected to do—those sins of omission you hear about occasionally. He has those in hand as well. He can orchestrate his will despite your failings. He can use the efforts of others to supply for your own. He can find a way because he is the Way.
Step Three: Let it go and trust that He will repair and supply.
This is probably the hardest step to do—but it’s the most important one. That being said, you may start out by doing it imperfectly. You may worry and fret…a lot. That’s normal. But that’s when you need to remind yourself of who it is you’re dealing with: the God of all creation; the Lord who created you for happiness, who wants you to trust in him; the Savior who died for you. This problem, no matter how hard or impossible it may seem to you, is not too much for him. Believe he can do it. Even more, believe in his love for you and that he will do it.
How I Applied St. Therese’s Formula
Years ago, I was dating a nice guy. Something happened that upset me and I realized I needed to address it with him. I had let a couple of things slide but saw a pattern developing so knew it needed to be discussed. (I am a therapist, after all.) But he tended to get a little defensive so I was apprehensive. So I went to adoration and prayed for grace and the right words. I prayed he’d be open to what I was saying and not shut down. He came over that afternoon. I brought up the subject and his walls went up. In the discussion, I mentioned something that had happened three weeks prior. He was annoyed—that happened 3 weeks ago! he exclaimed with great exasperation. To which I agreed that yes it had, but it hadn’t been addressed. Suffice it to say that it did not go well. He left. I felt frustrated and anxious. I’m sure he felt the same.
I was a bit disturbed that my earlier prayers weren’t answered but with nothing left for me to do I said the prayer—Jesus repair what I’ve done badly and supply for what I’ve left undone. Then I left it alone. I didn’t call. I didn’t attempt to reopen the discussion or fix it.
The next day he showed up at my house with a funny story to tell me. After leaving the previous afternoon he ran into an old acquaintance. They started to chat and out of the blue the guy expressed his frustration with his girlfriend who was upset with him for similar reasons that I’d been upset about. He then added—and when we tried to talk about it she brought up something that happened 3 weeks ago! The irony amazed him. He realized that it wasn’t just me hassling him unreasonably, but one of those typical differences between men and women things. I was dumbfounded. God really does have a great sense of humor! Problem. Solved.
I’ve used it many times since. Give it a try. Your results may not always be that dramatic (mine aren’t), but when you entrust all to this Lord who loves you, you can have confidence that he will truly work all out for your good.