Eat Your Mistakes

A friend of mine studied culinary arts under a master chef, and the chef always insisted that his students eat the food they ruined.  Or even slightly messed up.  You eat your mistakes.

Burned.  Dry.  Poorly sifted, proportioned, or kneaded.  Something went wrong with this thing and it comes out just… bad.   The chef says you have to eat it, for two reasons:

First, food is precious, and you don’t waste it.  Getting a recipe wrong is no reason to discard something that is still nourishing and needed for life, especially in a world where so many people are starving.

Second, you have to understand – fully understand – what happens when you mess up.   Our actions have consequences, and even if we’re well-intentioned, we have to really deal with problems when things go wrong.  We need to know what really happened, and how the things we did shaped the outcome.

When you mess up, you gotta own it.  You gotta eat it.

Like a kitchen worker in a restaurant, all of us make day-to-day mistakes that effect other people, the ones who will be served what we prepare.   Accepting and studying these mistakes is crucial to being a decent person in a community.  But even in private matters, we must grapple with the consequences of getting things wrong, or else we can’t hope to make things right.

Of course, this is the opposite of what we want to do, because it’s really embarrassing when you screw up.  There’s shame, there’s guilt, there’s wounded pride.  If there’s any way to move on and pretend the mistake didn’t happen, we’ll usually pick that option. 

That’s why it’s important to note one reason the chef didn’t give for eating your mistakes. 

He doesn’t require his students to consume food they messed up as any kind of punishment, or to make them feel bad about themselves.  There’s no agenda to humiliate people who burn the truffles.  Consuming mistakes is just about coming to terms with what happened, so that we can re-order and re-calibrate our efforts with the next opportunity.

Lent is a season of humility in the Christian Church, when we focus on facts of the human condition that we’d rather ignore.  We die, we break, we fail, we sin.  Lent asks us to acknowledge how short-sighted and amateurish we are when we try to do good, and to confess our sins when we wittingly or unwittingly cause harm to others and to ourselves.

It stings a little bit to fess up to this stuff, because we’re shining a light on things about ourselves we wish weren’t true.

But God’s purpose is not to shame us for being human, to punish us for being fallible.  God made us, and we’re imperfect.  Imperfection is not something we are supposed to transcend or repress.

God does intend to call and guide us, warts and all, toward experiencing and practicing grace.   God’s will is for us to grow into a lifestyle and identity as faithful people that will enable us and the people impacted by us to thrive.  That’s what Lent is about. 

There’s no shame in messing up the recipe.  Eat the cookies, ask for help, and keep trying.

This post was written as a devotional for The Table, where Rob Leveridge serves as pastor.

The Table is a Christian church in Davenport, Iowa pursuing transformation:

from greed toward generosity

from violence toward peacemaking

from isolation toward neighborliness

from fear toward faith

Worship Sundays at 5pm

102. E 2nd Street

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