The Upside of Failure

failYesterday my son’s school celebrated Science Fair day. I didn’t think it was a big deal. The letter that came home a month ago only mentioned that a science fair project was voluntary for kindergarteners. When I asked my son if he wanted to do and present a project, he adamantly said no, and as he’s only in kindergarten, I didn’t push.

But, when I dropped him off at school yesterday morning, I saw a sea of teal blue shirts on kids running around the playground, running to find their morning line, running to grab their backpacks when the bell rang. Teal blue shirts that I quickly realized marked the many, many kids who’d done a project. And there stood my son, in his black Minion shirt (the one with a red cape velcroed on the back so that he looked like a little superhero). And there I stood, beside him in his line, taking in the fact that at that moment I felt like anything but a superhero mom.

My son handled it well, admiring his friends’ t-shirts, and so, though I left feeling disappointed in myself that I didn’t encourage him more to participate, I was comforted that he didn’t seem too upset about it.

Until we attended the Fair together at the end of the school day. We walked hand-in-hand, observing the projects done by so many other kindergarteners. Color shows, and visual explanations of why it’s colder in winter and warmer in summer, and magnetic slime all wowed my son and captivated his attention. At the end, the children who’d participated were awarded medals to boast around their necks. My son watched them earn their medals, and I watched him bravely fight back tears. Of envy. Of regret. Of disappointment.

From my end, my own disappointment from earlier in the day returned as I realized I’d failed. I thought of all the reasons I’d done so. My son being my oldest, I was unaware of what a grand event this school-wide Science Fair was. The letter sent home hadn’t mentioned the shirts and the medals and the fact that most of the kindergarten class typically participates. But, whatever the reasons, I knew yesterday was a “Yep, I failed this one” kind of mom day.

Usually, I’d be hard on myself. I’d not let it go, grumbling to my husband about it after the kids were in bed, turning it over in my mind while trying to fall asleep myself. But, during this past Lent, I learned something beautiful about failure.

On Ash Wednesday, I’d made a commitment to waking up extra early each day to spend time with God. To read some work of a saint, to write, to pray. But, after the first week, I’d only made it up early enough to spend a little extra time with God on two occasions. I continued to struggle until soon enough I figured I’d just give up altogether. I’d already failed. What was the point of going on?

Until early one morning about halfway through Lent, feeling defeated, I forced myself out of bed (why, when I’d missed so many days already?), opened my copy of Divine Intimacy to a random page and began to read about humility. “It is impossible to gain humility,” it said, “without humiliations; for just as studying is the way to acquire knowledge, so it is by the way of humiliation that we attain to humility.”

I paused. I’d been seeing Lent as a chance to become the perfect daughter of Christ by sacrificing my sleep in order to get up early and become better at prayer and conversing with the Lord. But, I believe He wanted to mold me this Lent through another way: through lessons in humility.

Instead of puffing myself up and seeing myself as this great renewed pray-er, I learned during Lent to accept my failures as reminders of my own weakness and imperfections and of my total dependence on God in everything. And this lesson carries over, of course, into my motherhood.

When things go well, I find it’s easy to become prideful. Like when I don’t forget that it’s share day at school, or when I remember to wash my son’s favorite shirt – again – so he can wear it for the third day in a row. When we have these days where we remember it all (gasp!), we’re understandably inclined to pat ourselves on the back. But, let us not forget to thank the Lord for helping our forgetfulness that day, for gifting us these successful moments as encouragement and support to go on.

And let’s thank Him for our failures, too. For neglected Science Fair days, missed deadlines, and unwashed favorite pajamas. For it is the humble, not the proud, who grow closest to the Lord. And if He allows us these lessons in humility, then surely, through them, He wants us to grow closer to Him.

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