In junior high, I attended my younger brother’s winter concert in the school gym. When I arrived, some older kids motioned for me to join their group. Feeling unexpectedly flattered and uncharacteristically bold, I decided to accept their invitation instead of sitting with my parents. These super-cool kids had a section at the top of the bleachers toward the back. (They didn’t want to look too interested in the program.)
The lights dimmed and the piano began to play “Winter Wonderland.” The crowd hushed as a fourth grader in his dad’s suit walked down the center aisle, throwing miniature marshmallows into the crowd, mimicking snow. Somehow, several of the little snowballs made it up to our back row. A couple of kids in our group thought it would be funny to throw them back. And they did…throughout the entire program. I cringed at their disobedience, ignoring their encouragement to join in.
The next day at school, the principal summoned me into his office.
His words went something like this, “I was watching you at the program last night. I saw what you did. I have already spoken to your parents about it. We decided that rather than paddle you, I will bench you for a week, starting tomorrow. Be here at the bus rider’s bell.”
Shy, compliant me was horrified and speechless. Part of me felt unfairly accused. Another part was relieved to be spared the humiliation of the paddling. But mostly, I regretted the mistake of stepping beyond my comfort zone and sitting with that wayward group.
The next day after school, I showed up outside the principal’s office to take my place on the dreaded bench. It was a place “bad kids” sat for fighting at recess or talking back to the teacher. Worst of all, everyone in school walked by that bench on their way home.
It was safe to say no one expected to see me there.
It didn’t take long for the whispers to start, “Lori, what did you do?” “Why are you benched?” I tried to appear too engrossed in my pre-Algebra homework to look up. The looks and thoughts stung much worse than the private paddling would have.
I learned something about choosing friends and being a part of a group that week that I couldn’t have learned any other way. Guilt by association. This failure was painful but it served me well throughout my life as I began to forge my identity.
Failure is usually a bad word.
Most of the time, when we say “failure” we mean not meeting our human standards, not measuring up to this world’s bar. Falling short of expectation or plan.
When I heard the words “heart failure” for the first time, I had that same disappointment. The label stung in ways I still can’t explain. It meant a very vital part of me was well below average, with little hope of ever again being even adequate. I was confused and angry. Still, as much as I hated it, the “failure” part felt accurate. I wanted to run away from it as fast as I could. I begged God to immediately change my heart “failure” into a “success.” I wasn’t sure how long I could survive on the failure bench.
But our good God knew what Bill Gates discovered in his life: “Success is a lousy teacher.”
Sometimes those who have succeeded have done so in spite of themselves. But those who have failed and can identify that now are the true resources.
The best mentors I’ve had in my life are those who have failed. Someone who has walked the jagged path, someone who has fallen, slippery-footed from the steep mountain, and survived. Someone who wished the earlier chapters were only a rough draft.
Even worse than being an unreliable counselor, perfectionism paralyzes us.
The girl wrongly accused in the Marshmallow Incident still has to deal with bouts of perfectionism.
I often encounter the classic perfectionist pitfall: If I can’t do something flawlessly, I won’t do it at all. That applies to housecleaning, careers, and, yes, blog posts. But this tendency is the polar opposite from walking in faith that we are called to do.
Walk by My faith, instead of relying on what your human eyes can see.
Walk without a guarantee or safety net or Plan B. As Thomas Umstattd says, “Sometimes walking in faith is walking in failure.”
Because God knows the lesson is so much more important than the trophy.
And if you have raised even one child, you have a closet full of those. In my Parenting class we warn against over-praise and trophies just for showing up. We advise against protecting our kids from failing. Because it deprives them of the freedom of forgiveness and the blessing of resilience. But as a parent programmed to protect our children from pain, it doesn’t seem natural.
Contrary to what has been instilled in us, “Being wrong is,” in the words of author Kathryn Schultz, “both a given and a gift.”
As you delve into your 2019, be bold. Even when you’re not 100% certain. Walk in failure if you have to. So you can experience fully walking in faith.
Try anyway. Never trying means never learning and never improving, and that damages your creativity and your faith considerably. Even if you do fail, you’ll know more than you did when you started – and you become a new creation with that knowledge.
Because being wrong gives us license to re-create ourselves. Being wrong helps make each of us who we are: Redeemer-kissed scars and all.
We can err only when we have hope enough to try. Mistakes mean we can imagine a better outcome, a better reality. And we come closer to the grace-filled heart of God.
Innocent by association with the Only Friend who really matters in this life.
Learning that, I’d say the Marshmallow Incident was well worth it.