I’m in the market for some flashcards. For the first time since starting school, Annalyn is struggling a bit with math. I’m grateful her teacher constantly communicates with us and let us know she needs to work on some math facts. With a little extra effort I’m sure Annalyn will be back up to par for third-grade math.
Side note: I’m not so confident of my own third-grade math skills. We’re full into this “new math” I’ve heard about for so long, and it is, indeed, complicated. Yes, I can see how it might help some kids learn better, but for this girl (I mean me, not the actual third-grader in our house), it is tricky! Lucky for me, my mom taught third grade for years and is helping the whole family with ALL THE WORD PROBLEMS.
Anyway. Our real trouble with math is not Annalyn’s skill level. It’s her determination level. My sweet, smart daughter has had the misfortune of inheriting a delightful cocktail of perfectionism, temper, and stubbornness from both her parents. When faced with a difficult math problem, she has gotten frustrated because she’s used to school lessons coming easy and has given up. She has whined and yelled and quit trying but only after deciding that she’s bad at math and hates it.
I don’t know why this whole situation has taken me by surprise. It’s uncanny how much it’s like looking into a mirror. As long as I can remember I’ve been a perfectionist, who more often than not, quits when things get hard. (I also had to work much harder at math than other subjects in school, but that’s beside the point. This was NOT THE TIME to tell my daughter about the time I took statistics in college and practically did a back flip when I barely earned a C!)
The good thing about being at least half of the reason Annalyn is having such a hard time dealing with failure and frustration is that I have an endless supply of examples of dealing with it in my own life. Over the last several days I’ve told her how hard I’ve had to work on various things, like geometry and layups and playing “The Entertainer” on the piano. But what I need to share with her next is about the times I’ve failed.
Failure is a part of life — whether it’s bombing a presentation or failing a math test — and our eventual success depends on how we handle that failure.
A few years ago my husband and I were looking for a new show to watch together. My parents had mentioned before that they like Scorpion and since we seem to be thirty-somethings with television habits of sixty-somethings, it was a clear winner for our next pick. (Yes, you’ve found them, TV critics. WE are the ones watching all the shows on CBS!)
In one episode the main character, Walter, a super genius who leads a team of lesser genuises as they work with Homeland Security and other government agencies, makes a big mistake. As a super genius who considers the facts of every single decision he makes, he’s unaccustomed to making mistakes and simply cannot deal. His client, who is not a genius but is extremely successful in technology, challenges him by saying, “The reason I’m successful is because on the heels of defeat, I start all over again. Failure is part of the process. You don’t know where you’re vulnerable until you fail.”
While I’ve slowly come to grips with failure and weakness as a normal part of life rather than evidence of a lack of intelligence or worth, I’ve never thought about failure being a good thing either. Though I can list many things — jobs, moves, even relationships — that I’m thankful did not work out, I would not have said those failures were valuable.
But failure is more than just a part of life. It’s more than an inevitable irritation that disrupts our plans or messes with our psyche. Failure is valuable because it is part of the process.
Failure is part of learning.
Failure is part of growing.
Failure means we’re trying.
Failure shows us where we are vulnerable.
Failure shows us which doors to close.
Failure means we’re human.
Failure reminds us we’re imperfect.
Failure reminds us we need God.
Failure reminds us of God’s never-ending love and mercies new every day.
I hadn’t ever thought about failure that way, and I’m already thinking about how I will use this revelation the next time one of my kids struggles to succeed in something — because there will always be a next time.
What about you? Are you struggling with failure right now? Do you have a hard time handling anything less than perfection, than success? Are you afraid that failure means you are a failure?
If you have faced failure, it just means you’re human. It means you need God just as much as the next person. It means you are growing, you are trying, and now you have the opportunity to learn and move forward in a way you never would have found without that failure.
Failure isn’t the end; it’s just the beginning of the next step.
How appropriate to see your post tonight I was just thinking how I am failing at acting as a good Christian as much as I try there are always always moments to apologise to God for, ask forgiveness for. Now I know I could put this down to sin and being born in sin but it’s not what I mean. I’m really trying to hold my tongue but dealing with children on the cusp of teenage years and their moods I am reactionary. I find myself again asking forgiveness for my reaction, praying for help in my failures. Your post saying failures show we are trying and show we need God! Boy is that true…I do need him because your right without Him we cannot achieve anything! Great post x
Mary Carver says
I hear you, Jas. Sometimes I think parenting brings out the very worst in me – but, again, I have to remind myself that it’s showing me just how much I need Jesus, which is a good thing! Blessings to you.
Mary I LOVE this truth! Spot on and some people who have a gift to explain things should be writing… such as your sweet self! I’m well into my senior years and just learning failing is a great learning curve! Because I’m thankful and grateful to God for being me who He created ( as opposed to not knowing Him and not liking my self and my perfectionism as a child)
God will help in all my failures as well as my victories! Yes it’s a peaceful understanding now that I can start over and try a new way perhaps at seeing the situation.
Blessings to all you mamas, Jas keep on keeping on! Jesus is the balm:)
Mary Carver says
Sadie, thank you for your kind words. And yes, He IS a balm!
So good, Mary. ♥ And, oh how it applies to parenting, doesn’t it? I feel like God mad me a mom to teach me more than to teach them! 🙂 — I was just texting with my grown son this morning about a perceived failure of his. Trying to help him cast vision on what he hasn’t yet the maturity to see. And, that’s what God does for us, isn’t it? He sees beyond our timeline and knows the benefit of our “failures.” A comfort to know it’s all redeemable, eventually. — Hope your girlie has a great 3rd grade year. 🙂
Mary Carver says
Thank you, Brenda, for your kind words and for sharing your own experience. It’s encouraging to know that God keeps on teaching us through our parenting, even after they’ve left home!
Becky Keife says
Oh, Mary, you’re such a good mom to your daughters and such a good friend to all of us to remind us of the value of failure. It’s not my natural bent to see failure as a good, necessary, helpful part of the process of life. Success feels so much better. But I know you’re right…and I’m thankful for the reminder today. xx
Mary Carver says
It’s not my bent either, friend. I’m thankful for the One who never tires of reminding us of His truth and His love!
Patricia Raybon says
Oh, I love this, Mary. Failure means we’re trying. And we need God! Thanks for these great reminders today. As someone who has failed many times, at many things, your reflection today is much appreciated. Thank you so much!
Michele Morin says
I wish someone had whispered this truth to me when I was choosing a college major!
It’s always a temptation to me to choose the path where I know I can be successful with my eyes closed, but I’m thankful for the gift of God the Holy Spirit who keeps poking and prodding–and using words like yours to remind me that I can land on Him for fuel to carry me through a more challenging and rigorous path.
We can do this thing!
Do you know about Khan Academy? It’s such a helpful tool. It’s free and might bring some math confidence back to your daughter.