I had a heart-to-hearts with my kids this evening (my one heart to the three of theirs). I had one child working on a typing tutorial at the computer, her taps on the keyboard punctuated by low growls of frustration and an evil eye aimed at the screen that I will just say I am glad was not leveled at me. Things were not going well. My other two kids were being angelic—does that ever happen to you? As one child gets more and more sour-faced, the others somehow become exceptionally helpful. I suppose there’s no better time to subtly brag to mom about your lovely attitude and joy for household chores than in contrast to your sibling’s snarling complaints.
So this evening, as two children gleefully teamed up to empty the dishwasher and one nearly went ballistic when her typing efforts earned her a meager score, I decided it was time for a moment of reflection. A time out. A family huddle.
It was time for a little word about failure. About imperfection. About mistakes.
Somehow my kids have gotten it in their heads that there’s something wrong with making mistakes. Somehow they’ve taken it to heart that they’re supposed to be good at things the first time they try. From the time they were toddlers I have taught my kids that being smart is not a measure of intelligence, but a willingness to try. The smart person is the person who never stops asking questions, seeking out answers to things they don’t know, which by definition means that being smart has nothing to do with how much you know, but rather how much you are willing to learn. That’s what I have talked about with them, but of course we know as parents that what we wish to impart is not always what our kids end up taking away.
My kids still balk at their own imperfection, sulk over failures, and are tempted to give up easily. Not all the time, for sure, but a lot. They’re nine. They’re allowed to struggle with this. But I still want to teach them, over and over and over again if I must (which I’m pretty sure I must), that mistakes, errors, weaknesses, and imperfections are the blessings of life that present the best opportunities to learn. I look back on my life and without question the times of most intense growth and maturation have been times of struggle, hardship, and indeed some floundering. I’ve made mistakes and I’ve learned from them. I’ve failed and I’ve become wiser in the wake of regret. I’ve been weak, uncertain, clumsy, unskilled, and unprepared, and the Lord has shown Himself strong, confident, sure, infinitely capable, and never ever surprised.
My successes are the blessings God uses to show Himself through me to the world. He is the author of all that is good in me, and any success I have is by His grace showing abundant in my life. But my failures—my failures are the blessings God uses to show Himself to me, so that I might grow in the knowledge and likeness of Him who created me for His glory. I am not an end unto myself, I am a vessel of His perfection, which means any time I fail—Hallelujah!—I pave the way for His unfailing power to shine through me. Paul said it so beautifully when he claimed, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. . . . For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9b & 10b)
I want my kids to understand that weakness is cause for celebration, not because we revel in brokenness but because we rejoice in the opportunity for God’s strength to become evident. We are not called to be Him, but to reflect Him. We can become “holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:22) only through Christ’s work of reconciliation on the cross, and the more we recognize His redemptive work for us, the more able we are to appreciate His work of perfection in us.
This is a lot for nine year olds to understand, but I saw their eyes light up at the idea that failures could be cause for congratulations rather than condemnation. Perhaps if we keep talking about this, by the time they get to my age they’ll be able to explain it better than I. Perhaps it’s only hard for me to explain because I am so weak in my powers of articulation. I will praise God for this weakness, for He is still at work in me.