dumb mistakes

This past weekend we watched Babel, the third in an excellent series of films by Alejandro González Iñárritu. This one told four interconnected stories in which poor judgment led to severe consequences, mostly because language and cultural barriers made it hard for people to understand each other and increased suspicion between them. In one scene, a little boy wonders why they are being chased by border police when they haven't done anything wrong. His Mexican nanny assures him, "We aren't bad, we just did a dumb thing." It raises the larger question of whether most of our tragedies and the ways we hurt each other arise from human mistakes that look worse (and then escalate) because we cannot understand the other people involved.

Thinking about how the film ends, though, I realized that most of the characters ended up better off. Their experiences were wrenching, and they seemed helpless amid the confusion, but they somehow gained something far more valuable than what they lost. Perhaps they could not have gained those things any other way.

I had been thinking about dumb mistakes before watching that. I've always been careful about not making mistakes; afraid of failure, perhaps. But I've become even more careful as resources are lessened, and there seems less room for error. I guess I've thought that God would always provide enough, and a way through a difficult problem—but I wasn't so sure what would happen if I didn't use the "enough" wisely or if I made a mistake and missed the way through. Would I be out of luck then? I couldn't blame God, who gave me a chance; it would be my fault that I wasted what was given. That possibility has caused some anxiety, I think, as I've wondered how many mistakes we're making trying to arrange the retreat ministry. What if we're squandering the chance God has given us?

But the way Providence seemed to work in the film reminded me that I do believe in that. Not only is God aware of our ignorance and fallibility, he knows exactly what mistakes we are going to make. And he can work with that, to bring good. Seeing that happen, receiving the good we do not deserve because of our own poor choices, is the experience of grace. And I also think it's an experience of the freedom and personal nature of God. Karma (or any other sort of impersonal cosmic "force") doesn't take "oops" into consideration. It's good to know God does.