The interesting thing about that though, is that I was also an exceptionally quiet student in the classroom. Not necessarily with my friends or even with my teachers in a more informal setting, but something about the classroom made me clam up. I was not your typical teacher’s pet, sitting in the front row and constantly raising my hand or asking questions. I actually feared being called on, really feared speaking up at all. It could easily be chalked up to me not liking attention (which still holds true today), but I think on a deeper level, I was terrified of being wrong. I didn’t want to be called on because I didn't want to give the wrong answer in front of everyone. I didn't want to ask questions because I didn’t want people to think I didn’t understand. I was much more comfortable studying privately. I always wanted to make sure I got the answer right, and I never wanted to confront the possibility of being wrong.
Unfortunately, this trait followed me around, seeping into so many different compartments of my life. It obviously continued throughout my academic career, but it also infiltrated my relationships, too. I remember a time in college when two friends confronted me claiming that over the few years they’d known me, they had never heard me apologize, never heard me utter the words, “I’m sorry.” I don’t quite remember what the impetus was for that confrontation, but it definitely caught me off-guard and prompted some reflection on my part.
Now, I’m certain I’d apologized before - you don’t make it through 20 years of your life without doing so. But these were good friends who had spent a good amount of time with me, and as hard as it was to accept, I knew they were on to something. Why was an apology something I often held in? Why was I so slow to admit a mistake?
What it boiled down to is, I don’t like to be wrong. I don’t think any of us do. Because at the end of the day, admitting that we were wrong, or even that we COULD be wrong, means laying down our pride and putting on humility. It’s acknowledging that we don’t know it all, admitting we don’t have it all figured out or put together, and being open to and okay with standing corrected, not above.
And as followers of Jesus, this posture of humility, confession, and repentance should be our default. After all, our need for Jesus runs deep and wide. All throughout Scripture, we read of redemption, renewal, and transformation. Old ways dying, new mercies every morning, a thread that leads from death to new life. And perhaps the best, most explicit example of this kind of transforming work is found in Paul’s story.
There’s a good chance it’s familiar already, but just in case, I’ll remind you. We read of God’s work in Paul’s life in the book of Acts. If you’d like to check it out, it’s found specifically in Acts 9. But otherwise, here is a brief summary.
Paul was a devout, established Jewish leader who knew God’s law backwards and forward. He was raised in this tradition and his identity was most definitely tied up in it. In fact, we know he persecuted followers of Jesus and did everything he could to arrest them, even threatening their lives, even taking their lives. This is what he was known for and this is what his life revolved around. The Way of Jesus was a threat and my guess is, he probably thought what he was doing was right.
But then, he encountered Jesus. While traveling to Damascus, Jesus appeared to him through a blinding light and told Paul that the way he had been doing things was wrong. That he needed to make it right and follow him into what would be uncharted territory for Paul. And so after being blind and disoriented for a few days, Paul dedicated his life to the very thing he was unwaveringly against.
As you might imagine, it took awhile for other followers of Jesus to believe Paul was genuine in this turnaround. But once they realized he was, they worked with him to spread the news and mission of Jesus, and we read about this work all throughout the New Testament.
Jesus changed Paul’s heart, but to the outsider looking in, it probably looked like Paul changed his mind. To those who knew the old Paul, he probably seemed weak or easily swayed. I think about what it must have been like for Paul to admit he had been wrong in treating followers of Jesus the way he did, to acknowledge a better way, to commit to following Jesus and not necessarily the status quo. I’m sure it was humbling. I’m sure it was daunting and uncomfortable. It might have even been lonely. But Jesus called Paul, and Paul answered, leaving behind what had been so familiar.
So often we operate, or at least I operate, out of a desire to be right. But one of the things we can learn from Paul is how to handle getting it wrong. As a follower of Jesus, Paul knew he wasn’t above being wrong, wasn’t above an apology or a change of heart. Because that’s what authentic faith does - it exposes the parts of us that don’t reflect Jesus and offers a better way. As Brene Brown said, “it’s not about being right, it’s about getting it right.” And getting it right requires trial and error. A teachable spirit. A willingness to acknowledge our shortcomings, our mistakes, our growing edges.
I think it’s easy to look at Paul’s story on the road to Damascus and think of it as this big, dramatic, once-in-a-lifetime turnaround. And we often take that and think we have to limit ourselves to just one moment that changed us, and after that one moment, we’ve figured it out and we’re good to go. But I have to believe that God’s mercy and grace is bigger than that. Yes I can pinpoint a moment when I was 11 as significant, when my faith became more real and personal to me. But God didn’t stop there. There has been moment after moment, experience after experience, lesson after lesson, in which God’s grace has changed my heart and shaped me more and more into a better reflection of Jesus. And God’s not done yet. I still have plenty of room to grow. But I’m thankful that I’m not the same person I was 20 years ago, or even one year ago. I’ve grown and continue to do so. God hasn’t given up on me and I’ve realized that learning to accept when I’m wrong leads to being made right.
The same is true for each of us. For each of us personally, yes, but also corporately, within our churches, our organizations, our communities, even our political parties. Whether it’s a relationship that needs mending, an apology that needs giving, or a long-held belief that needs shifting, grace abounds. God doesn’t work in a one-and-done format - our faith is a process, a journey, a steady ebb and flow of figuring out what it means and looks like to follow Jesus faithfully. Until our last breath, we will continue to find that there is room to grow, more to learn, and opportunities to do and be better. We will encounter the Living Christ at significant pivotal moments, showing us a better way. And all throughout, we are surrounded by God’s grace, mercy, and love, as God guides us, molds us, and changes us more and more into the likeness of Jesus.
Today, remember, grace abounds. Our faith is one rooted in redemption and renewal. In humility, may we lean in to the ways in which we could be wrong, in hopes that we will be made right.