I Hope You Fail

This is the legendary “lost column” that appeared in the March issue of ChurchActs. I’m glad to finally be able to share it with you

It goes against everything we seem to hear about how to deal with you these days. We’re supposed to enable you and validate you and set you up to succeed. And the more I think about it the more I think you, my young brothers and sisters, are being set up for a failure of monumental proportions. I think we need to make sure that you’re given every opportunity to fall flat on your face. To auger in, to crash and burn, to have the wheels come off. In short to fail. Maybe even spectacularly.
I know, you thought I was your friend. I really am.
That’s why I want you to fail. Actually I want you to be given the opportunity to fail. The real problem is that adults spend a lot of time and energy trying to make sure that you are given opportunities to succeed. When you were little the “circle of protection” needed to be very tight around you. Little kids don’t have any idea what can be real trouble for them so their parents and families and teachers need to watch over them pretty closely. Trouble is that a lot of adults are continuing that same process even as you grow older. While you don’t want to hear this either there is still a need for some adult supervision even for 14,15,16,17 and 18 year olds. If we’re really trying to prepare you to become adults capable of going out and surviving on your own we need to let you fail. And we need to let you figure your own way out of a goodly portion of those failures too. Because it’s not enough just to try and fail. You need to know that you can work your way out of it, figure out the solution and make it work.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of success. I won’t kid you either, failing really stinks. It hurts and it can hurt for a long time. But it’s necessary so that you know that it’s survivable. You know what can be the strongest part of a bone? The place where it was once broken. The time is coming very quickly for you when you won’t be able to rely on Mommy or Daddy or whoever to pull you out of every problem. You’re going to find yourself out there on your own, there won’t be a convenient adult to step in and “fix” things. Yes, I know the general consensus among youth is that all these “meddling” adults are a pain and you wish they’d go away. But let’s be honest, that’s really only when things are going well, right? It’s kinda nice to have them around to take charge (and responsibility) when things go whacko, isn’t it? There have been plenty of times when I’d LOVE to have someone step in and fix up a few details for me. Trust me it doesn’t happen. Success that comes easily doesn’t feel nearly as good as success that you know you’ve really earned.
For my fellow parents, teachers, youth ministers I need to acknowledge that we have the hardest part in all of this. We have to be willing to step back a little farther, NOT run in at the first (or second, or maybe even third) sign of trouble. Worst of all we’ll have to deal with their pain after the failure. And that is really hard. In the end we need to remember that we really are preparing them to thrive on their own. It’s no surprise to us that it can be a cold, hard world out there. What we can do is make sure that we’re always there to help our youth figure out what went wrong, to insure that failures don’t become too calamitous and to let them know that failure is not the end of the world. We can’t (and shouldn’t try to) prevent them from falling. We can make sure that they always have a safe place to fall. In the long run I believe that we’ll see them succeed more often, growing more confident and able to deal with anything that life can throw at them.
So let the opportunity to fail begin.

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