Learning to Fail
I watched a first year teacher struggle yesterday with behavior management. She has come a long way this year, even though she doesn’t feel like it, and she’s actually much better than most of the first year teachers I’ve seen throughout my career, even though she has no personal frame of reference. I watched this young teacher say all the right things, keep her emotional constancy and professional composure, and try to maintain focus on teaching and learning. It just didn’t work. I could have jumped in and fixed it. I could have whisper coached a few words, but I didn’t. I needed to see her finish.
As soon as the last student left the room, she looked over at me, and all the worry and frustration slid from wherever she had suppressed them while she stood in front of kids and surfaced on her face, in her posture, and in her voice. We both knew she was moments away from receiving her next class, and she needed a confidence boost and a quick win to make it to the end of the day.
“What do you think is happening?” I asked. She mumbled something about what she could have said, but she was grasping.
“Assertiveness,” I said. “That’s the missing link. You are saying and doing all the right things, but you just don’t come off as believable because you’re not saying it in an assertive way. Not loud, not nagging: assertiveness is meaning what you say and following through.” I gave her a couple of fast examples from the lesson just observed, and she breathed in deeply, set her teacher persona back on her face, and went to the hall to meet the next class.
Like this teacher, I’m learning how to fail. We tend to associate failure with something negative, but in truth everything we’ve been successful at was probably the result of some type of failure earlier. I don’t know any baby, for example, who in learning how to walk avoided the wobble of uneasy legs or the plop down on padded behind. I don’t know any basketball player who landed every shot. Even Jordan missed a few, had the ball stolen from him, and lost a game.
The Christian knows that failure is part of the plan. In fact, it’s required for the journey. It’s our flesh that tells us that if we fail that somehow we are unworthy. It’s our flesh that tells us that if we fail that somehow that’s proof we are moving in the wrong direction. It’s our flesh that tells us that if we fail God is not with us. It’s precisely in our failures, though, that the world can see the true magnificence of Him. We just need to fail in the right way.
When Paul and Silas were imprisoned for casting out the spirit from the slave girl, thereby stopping her masters from being able to make money off her fortune telling, they prayed and sang hymns. They didn’t question whether Paul had misinterpreted the vision or bemoan the fact that God had sent them to Macedonia. They didn’t yell and fight in a effort to defend themselves. They prayed and sang hymns. They took what on the surface looked like a failure to spread the news of Jesus and turned it into an opportunity to praise Him, which led to the ministering unto prisoners and guards alike.
And like my teacher, we all need to learn a lesson in assertiveness in the Lord. Again, looking to Paul, we see that his ministry required that “he must suffer for [His] name’s sake” (Acts 9: 16). After his sight was restored, the Bible states that Saul was baptized and “straightway he preached Christ” (Acts 9: 20). While he was yet in Damascus, people plotted to kill him, but instead of bowing out of his new commitment to Christ, Barnabas reported that Saul “had preached boldly” and “spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 9: 27 and 29). How many of us when the tables are turned and the going gets tough dare to boldly affirm the power and realness of Christ? How many of us in our afflictions and tragedies of life stand firmly and faithfully in Him?
Seeming failures are truly opportunities to share, demonstrate, and proclaim the awesomeness of Christ. When we stand rooted in Him, even when everything about us demands that we fall, the world can see the power of Christ. When people question how we can still have joy in the midst of hardship and unfathomable devastation, we glorify Him. And even Christ, who suffered needlessly and like none other, understood His charge and stood as an example to us all: “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name.” (John 12: 27-28)
We each have our own charge in the body of Christ. We have our own seeming failures to endure. Let us not fail the ultimate test, though. The things of this world we hold most dear will be the hardest to lose as we cast them aside to follow Him. For some it’s ego. For others it’s reputation and fame. For still others it’s money and earthly power. Whatever it is, if it gets in the way of glorifying Him, it’s worth it and necessary to lose, and that failure is ultimately our success.
“Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.” (Mark 10: 21)