My Favorite Mistake
An electric guitar feints toward the blues then hitches a ride with rock and roll. Lining up within its groove, Sheryl Crow wraps her southeast Missouri timbre around a familiar refrain.
You’re my favorite mistake.
On her lips, the syllables sound with regret and relish; Crow sings as someone still tasting bittersweet flesh. When I address the atmosphere with the same four little words, they lose their sense and savor. My favorite mistake returns like a thorn in the flesh, stripped of any allure.
At 20, I called myself one of the New Romantics, the heart-on-our-sleeve gang out to remake the world in the image of our desires. Seasons changed around us—blossom to breathlessness, gold to gray; we remained in perpetual idiot summer.
We lived for every Friday night, hugging the curves of Route 13. Windows down, radios up. Holding our breath, we dove beneath the waters of every hot-blooded anthem, surfacing with lungs burning by the guitar solo.
Convince yourself of your rare capacity for love, and every line and shape changes to suit you.
Convince yourself of your rare capacity for love, and every line and shape changes to suit you. Other boys turn into shadows; girls, no doubt, will welcome you as heroes. Only one problem obstructed our sight: all our glorious visions began and ended with us.
In an essay on the generations of emo, rock critic Jessica Hopper describes girls living inside modern expressions of a genre defined by its big guitars and bigger feelings. No names, no shape or substance—just pretty faces in distress.
“It’s evident from these bands’ lyrics and shared aesthetic that their knowledge of actual living, breathing women is notional at best,” Hopper writes. “… Emo’s yearning doesn’t connect it with women—it omits them.”
I never took the microphone with an emo band, but worshipped contours of constructed muses, leaving precious little room for the details that make up a real girl. Treating love like light, me and the boys I called brothers projected our flood-lamp passions at every possibility.
At 40, something familiar creeps along on soft paws, a black cat breaching my peripheral vision. We’re nine months into a scared new world, and I’m not sick but bear the effects of disease.
The pandemic grinds down my soul, especially as significant portions of the church shake the wrong dust off their feet. Faced with Biblical questions masked as rhetoric but steeped in sharp reality—“Am I my brother’s keeper?” “Who is my neighbor?”—so many within my sight circle the wrong answer again and again.
Heavy-hearted, I lumber to the middle of the American sanctuary and lay down. I struggle to pray in the best moments, giving up altogether now. The inner quiet needed to concentrate on Scripture yields to the volume of death and distraction.
I live miles from any Ebenezer. I catch myself far from the means through which God often reveals himself. But I wave the warning signs away, trusting in something I created and I sustain. My pilgrim’s progress will continue, I swear to myself, on pure credit. My love for God exceeds anything other stumbling, so-called saints have to offer at the altar.
And I am 20 years old once again; my affections matter more than their object.
Years after rolling my eyes at Jesus-is-my-boyfriend songs and scoffing at disciples who cleared their dating schedule for God, it hits me. I tend to approach him the same way I ambled up to college girls.
Something sure and unsettling attends the recognition that you will make slightly more respectable versions of one mistake the rest of your life. Years after rolling my eyes at Jesus-is-my-boyfriend songs and scoffing at disciples who cleared their dating schedule for God, it hits me. I tend to approach him the same way I ambled up to college girls.
Thank God he never deals with me according to my favorite mistake. Reversing the curse of idiot summer, he brings tender growth in every season, no matter how fallow.
After waking up to my errors, but without knowing a better way, he knit me to a girl as real as they come. They say lovers eventually start to look alike, but this is no sign of decline. What’s real in one of us responds to what’s real in the other until we live and move the same direction.
Now I see how love and light actually emulate one another. She is a prism—and I’m hers—refracting what little I shine until waves and colors reach their definition. And in light of love, God reveals himself as the true object of affection through, not in spite of, my mistakes.
He loves me still, even as I assume my love is more than enough. And he fills in the spaces around my yearning, so it might be fulfilled by him rather than omit him for someone lesser known, for something more malleable.
Maybe other people really learn from their mistakes. I’m not sure it actually works like that. I might never outrun my truest mistakes.
Once I didn’t know what real girls looked like; often I lose touch with why and how a real God appears. But neither is an incidental being. What they give and receive, how they know and care to be known, makes up the stuff of love.
I recoil at the prospect of turning 60 or 80 and converting the same old mistake into something scarcely different. But God knows I will carve prodigal paths through every cycle of my life and fails to flinch. Instead he stands patient on the porch, ready to reveal himself as a father. He waits to envelop me in the folds of his robe; scrape his bearded chin, wet with tears, across my face; sweep me off my feet into a love stronger than any I could return.
Maybe other people really learn from their mistakes. I’m not sure it actually works like that. I might never outrun my truest mistakes. But I know I can’t outrun a God who is more real to me all the time.