Learning to Fail So We Can Learn to Live

When my older son learned to walk, he pretty much taught himself when we weren’t looking. He’d make his way around furniture, but we could never get him to let go. If we tried the old “hold my hand until I pull it away” trick, he’d just sit down as soon as we let go. But every once in a while, we’d walk in to a room and find him standing in the middle, not holding on to anything. (Which always resulted in him sitting back down as soon as he realized someone could see him.) When he learned to ride a bike, he’d step off and let his bike fall every time he started to tip over. As soon as he sensed that he was going to crash, he’d bail out so we couldn’t see him fall.

This weekend, he had a chance to learn something new that I knew was going to necessitate a lot of falling. He got to snowboard for the first time. It didn’t go well. I tried to brace him for the falling. I knew what was coming. I remember learning to snowboard a few years ago. I don’t like people to see me fall either, so it was as embarrassing as it was painful. Despite my warnings that this wasn’t going to be easy, he was caught off-guard at just how tricky it is to slide down a mountain of ice with your feet strapped down to a waxed slab of fiberglass. (Who thinks of this stuff, anyway!?) After about an hour and a half of getting more and more frustrated, we took a break for lunch. He was tired of falling and I was tired of picking him up and trying to convince him that he’d get it.

During lunch, I realized I needed to make a choice: enjoy the rest of the day on the slopes with my group of students or fight with my son until he got the hang of snowboarding. (Sometimes being a youth minister and dad at the same time is really tricky.) Feeling defeated, I told him he could switch to skis (which he naturally took to and enjoyed immediately). In the long run, snowboarding isn’t a life skill I’m willing to fight about. What I am willing to fight about, however, is failure.

We hate it.

We avoid it at almost any cost.

Truth be told, we fear it.

But we can also learn from failing more than we learn from proficiency. If I’m naturally good at something, it’s easy to slip into coasting without even realizing it. But learning something new can be a struggle that involves the risk of failing. We have to take the risk. The growth we need requires the faith to take the risk. The caterpillar has to struggle to get out of the cocoon in order to become the butterfly he always could be. My son needs to learn how to grow through the struggle and the falling and the failing. So does his dad. Which is what makes me so grateful that I never have to fall alone.

Neither do you, so keep trying. Keep getting up and falling again toward the dreams God’s planted in you. Keep stretching yourself and try stepping into the unfamiliar more often. It’s certainly a risk. But living a safe and sedentary life in the shallow waters of familiarity carries it’s own risks. Don’t settle for what’s easy. Learn to fail.

But how? Good question for another post…

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