An Unlikely Gift

by Pastor Heath Howe

For some reason or another I have been thinking a lot about failure these days. Lent is a season for reflection, so maybe the season is encouraging me to reflect on some of the times I have really blown it. I have also noticed how we have failed as a culture, as a church, as a people. What I notice most is that we try our very best to avoid failure at all costs. We hate to fail. We hate the feeling of vulnerability and embarrassment that can accompany it. We hate the fact that failure brings us face-to-face with our humanity. When we fail, we believe we have lost control. We are not in charge. We are not God.

As a parent, I notice that we tend to pass this fear on to our children, even without noticing that we are doing it. When our child's team loses a game, we push them quickly past their strong feelings of failure by saying, "Next time. Next time." What would it be like if we said, "Yes, I bet you are sad. Losing is no fun." Then, maybe after that we could encourage them to look forward to the next game. Or what about the phrase, "Perfect"? Our child shows us a high mark on a test and we say, "Perfect." What if instead we said, "Wow. What did you learn about yourself from this great mark?" The same question could be asked when our child shows us a less desired grade. Imagine how powerful it would be if our children saw us embrace our own failures instead of avoiding them or making excuses. Imagine if we had the courage to say, ‘Wow. I really wasn't listening today when you told me how hurt you were by what happened at school. Let's begin again." I am not trying to make something out of nothing or to simply wordsmith. I really believe there is something valuable about allowing failure to be recognized as a part of our human experience. We don't need to avoid it.

Failure, after all, can be a gift.

I say this because it is through failure that we realize our true dependence on God. Dependence is a slippery word for us as Americans and it can feel odd as we are raising young Americans today. Our culture honors independence and self-sufficiency. We want our children to grow into high functioning independent adults. Great. But I am learning that they actually cannot become truly independent if they never learn about their DEpendence on God.

At our children's baptism we say that they are "marked as Christ's own forever." All that they are and do will only really make sense and bring them fulfillment if they understand that it is through a very intimate and interconnected relationship with God that they can actually grow free in God's image and likeness. And failure is a great teacher of that fact. Susan Sarandon puts it this way, "I teach my kids to make their mistakes early and often. That's how they learn who they really are." I would also add whose they really are. They are not a god in charge of their world, they are God's child, who is here to receive and give all that God has in store for them.

We have a great example of how to step into the gift of failure in the person we know as Jesus. He faced the ultimate experience of failure for his time, death on a cross. He did not run from it. He embraced it and in his doing so God was able to bring about new life. Failure, then, is at the heart of our Christian story. It is something we are called into again and again so that God can make us new. What a great lesson to learn during Lent!

When we stop avoiding failure, we become less anxious and the myth of always being or getting it "right" fades away. We begin to enjoy the journey of life and become less worried about the results. Our relationships with others open and take shape. We are less concerned about how we are perceived from the outside and more desirous of knowing one another from the inside out. When we allow for the gift of failure, we become, I believe, real people. Real people connected to God and to one another.

SAVE THE DATE: ADULT FORUM March 3rd and 10th Dr. MELISSA PERRIN on the value of failure in the lives of our children.