How to Parent Through Failure

Janelle Alberts
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Janelle Alberts writes pithy Bible synopses and is a regular contributor to Christianity Today's Gifted for Leadership. For more on Alberts visit janellealberts.wordpress.com.

A friend of mine once confided to me that the number one thing her parents taught her was: Don’t try.

They didn’t mean to.  They didn’t say those words exactly.  But they felt embarrassed and scared of failure. Then they passed that on to their daughter.

Failure does look terrible.  It feels even worse. 

But we are the parents here, people!  We need to pull ourselves together just like every parent of yore which is to say: imperfectly and one step at a time.

We can do that.  We’ll start with the basics.

LIFE IS MESSY. THAT’S HOW THE STORY GOES.

Sound trite?  It is.  Yet, few of us live with this as the expectation.  The cure?  Dig up renowned Scripture characters that have played their hands way worse than even we have. 

Then plagiarize what they learned.

Case in point?  Peter.

Apostle Peter is the butt of churchy jokes because Peter thought Peter was FABULOUS, or so the story goes.  We do know this: at least Peter wasn’t afraid to give things a try. 

And fall on his face.

But there once was a time he outdid himself, wherein failure broke his heart.

It came after a long streak where Peter had gotten good at looking bad.  He walked on water, and then FREAKED (Matt 14:29-30).  He heard clear messages directly from Jesus’ mouth and his response?  “Um, what?” (Matt 15:15-16).  

But after all that and more, Peter thought he had hit his stride.

Jesus tried to let him know more growth opportunities lay ahead, to the tune of a cock crowing, but Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Matt 26:35).  

Oh Peter.

AND THEN IT GETS WORSE

Most of us over the age of puberty remember making early proclamations about how great we were going to be at something, only to have it blow up in our faces.

So it went with Peter.

After Jesus was arrested, Peter stood nearby warming himself by a fire.  A young girl asked if he was a disciple of Jesus.

Peter said, “I am not.” (John 18:17)

Luckily for Peter, he got a second chance to show his alliance with Jesus.  And what tumbled out of his mouth? 

“I am not.”  Again.  (John 18:25)

I could almost weep, I so relate to this guy.  Then along came chance number three.

A man got a good look at Peter and asked if Peter was from Jesus’ group (P.S. Peter – I think he knows it’s you.)  Peter, come on!  Just say it out loud now with a third chance to set the record straight. 

Instead he cursed and muttered something akin to: “Nope.  Nada.  Never met the guy.”

Cue the cock crowing ladies and gentlemen!  Chance after chance to say and do the right thing and how do we land over and over?

In a big fat pile of: fail. 

Then Peter wept.  (Mark 14:72)

FAILURE IS NOT FINAL.  IT’S PERSONAL.

The only way to parent through failure is one way, which is to fully convey to our children (are we still talking about the children here?) that failure is not final.

Failure is not final. 

This will hold us steady as we parent through our toddlers’ malicious dumping of oil-base paint all over a neighbor’s carpet (completely theoretical – not speaking from experience AT ALL), to our kindergartener’s swearing on the playground (WHERE do they pick these things up?), to our kiddos’ refusal to play with our best friend’s child (awkward) to lots, lots more.

Failure is not final. It’s personal.

This is not a God of platitudes.  This is a God who knows failure, knows the pain of it, the lessons to learn from it, and the personal ways to reach our children through it.

As He did for Peter.

Much later, after Jesus died and was raised, He spoke to Peter.  Here was Jesus’ chance to put Peter in his place, annihilate him for his failure.  Instead, Jesus proceeded by telling Peter to “Feed my lambs …” (John 21:15-17).

Wait.  What?  Jesus still wants Peter to be part of His gang?  Why?

Because God gets failure.

And Peter was getting God.

Peter recognized God at an earlier time when he said to Jesus, “You are the Christ,” (Matt 16:16).  But after his heart-searing act of denying Jesus, Peter seemed to have learned something.  Peter said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you” (John 21:17).

That word know is the Greek word eidō, a verb meaning “to see.”  In other words, Lord, I know you see me, raw.  You know what I did then.  You know my heart now. 

I think there is only one reason Peter would remain there, being seen by God.

He thought God loved him. 

He was hoping that what he believed about this God was true – that a flawed self was enough to still have a place in this God’s kingdom and plan.   

It is, and God told him so by saying, “…take care of my sheep…” (John 21:17). 

Aaaaand then came controversies between Peter and Paul (Gal 2:11-13).  Opportunities for failure abound for these characters!

For our children as well.  The more comfortable we get with flawed-but-loved will station us on solid ground – a place from which our children can grow and return as they fail.

Meanwhile, God says the harvest is plentiful.  It’s the workers that are few (Matt 9:37).  Our children and we have a role to play.

Flawed though we are, the harvest awaits. 

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