“Fail” is an uncomfortable word. We use it to tell ourselves and others that someone has not accomplished that which we set out to accomplish. It’s that nasty inner voice that tells us to compare ourselves to others and that we are worthless in comparison. It’s a tool of humiliation that the enemy uses to discourage us and prevent us from walking in the faith or accomplishing a goal.
Early in life, children are especially familiar with failure. From their first, frustrating baby steps to their eventual mastery of the fork and spoon, children fail at nearly everything they attempt. Yet, children are some of the bravest among us all, for they determinedly forge on despite the skinned elbows and head bonks and spaghetti-sauced faces.
Children learn to get back up and continue on, but sometime later there comes the disappointment and disapproval of others. Some children stop there and never go on to live a full and challenging life. The reality is that children must first learn to fail, with grace, in order to get back up.
Failure is merely a tool for education. Through failure, we can teach a child a more excellent way. When questioned about his repeated failures with improving the light bulb, Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”
The real enemy is not failure, it is humiliation and discouragement. Children need to know this.
During the child’s formative and educational years, it is important to maintain a loving and encouraging environment lest the child believe that his failures are due to his intrinsic and final worthlessness as a person. Failure is not the endgame. Failure is the tool by which you better see the solution. Christian schools should have this environment built in them, for as Christians we are well acquainted with our failure and the price Christ paid to restore us to peace with God. Failure is a reality, but so is the restoration.
This teaching is not like the current trends of boosting children’s self-esteem, which instructs the child to look to his personality and preferences for satisfaction and pleasure. This way of thinking breeds mediocrity and arrogance, eventually destroying the child’s natural motivation to take risks and excel. With this teaching, failure is the endgame - the natural result of diversity. Self-esteem wrongly teaches that failure isn’t failure, it’s just indicative of our diversity and unique personhood.
The Bible teaches us otherwise. Failure is a reality of life, failure is a part of this world, failure ought not to be - but failure is the tool that shows us the way to Christ and through life without losing our dignity and value as created beings. To a Christian, failure can be an extremely useful tool and motivator.
Children need to know this. They need to learn the healthy medium between recognizing that what they do is not always good enough and inspiring them to press on despite the setbacks.
When I was a young girl, I desperately desired to learn to roller skate. I was twelve years old when I got my first glorious pair of skates - I wanted to soar across the rink like a swan, spinning and twirling and dancing! But the first lesson I had to learn was how to fall without injuring myself. How to fall with grace. This was not easy, and my scarred knees are testament to my failures of even learning how to fail! Yet, those falls and bandages couldn’t quench my spirit. I was inspired by dancers and skaters, and eventually mastered those moves I dreamed of doing. But if I had not first learned how to fail and get back up, my skating dreams may have ended in a leg cast or broken skates.
As Christian parents and educators, we need to continually remember that failure is not the endgame. Failure is not the final word. Failure is not the end of the story. Rather, failures are the stones in the pathway of life, stones we must learn to jump over, walk around, kick out of the way. Behind the failures of life, there must be hope.
Are you mentoring a child or struggling with failures in your life or a certain situation? Take heart from the message of the scriptures:
“…we … glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans 5:3-7
“Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous. This is what the LORD will do to all the enemies you are going to fight.” Joshua 10:25
In what way have you used failure as a tool to get through a difficult lesson or situation? Please share your story in the comments!