Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Up Side of Down

Is there an up side of down? I was returning to Krum from a clergy meeting and listening to NPR when I heard a report from an author who was making just this claim. Between the winter membership drive invitations, Megan McArdle made various points on while failure is so essential to human growth and well-being. It sounds counter-intuitive, but as I listened, I understood.

When we fail, we have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes we made. When things come easily to us, we actually may not learn as much. It’s the difference between seeing the results of our attempts as the outcome of hard work and effort or natural ability.

My husband is a saxophonist and currently teaches students from middle school to undergraduate. We have had many conversations about effort versus talent. From his perspective, he would gladly take the student willing to try and try hard rather than one who coasts on native ability. It’s a lesson that translates well beyond music. We all run out of talent at some point, whatever we are attempting, and it’s then that our effort must kick in.

Or worse, suffering and tragedy come through no doing of our own and we must be resilient. And resilience is built through failing, dusting ourselves off, and trying again. I’ve reminded myself of this lesson as I watch my son grow. It’s tempting to hover over him, to use my strength, resilience, and maturity to shield him from all harm. My hands instinctively rose to catch him whenever he was learning to walk and would stumble. While some measure of safety is important, I must allow him to try, to fail, and to learn. It’s the way that all of us become resilient individuals.

Resilience is about more than being strong. It’s the difference between the oak and the willow trees, if you’ve heard that old story. The two trees are standing on the bank of a river and the oak is bragging to the willow about how beautiful and strong it is, how its branches reach up to the sky, and its roots hold deep within the earth. The willow agrees, its branches sagging with sadness, brushing the face of the river. That night, a powerful storm comes with ripping winds. The willow’s branches are tossed by the wind, but its supple frame bends. The oak is not so lucky. With a mighty crack, the rigid oak breaks before the storm. That’s not to say that the willow is unscathed, but it survives because of its resiliency.

It can be the same way for us. Last year was an incomparably hard year for me and my family. I lost my grandfather, my baby, and my father in just a matter of months. While I was bruised and battered by the waves of loss and grief, I also recognized something profound. My spirit was like a weeble-wobble, those little toys that may sway and teeter, but don’t fall down. And eventually, by God’s grace, I began to be righted.

Especially in the loss of our baby, I recognized the healing capacity of our wounded places. My grief, and my willingness to be open about our story, gave others the permission to share their stories of pain. I heard so many stories from men and women who had finally found a safe place to share and be heard. While I don’t believe God causes the pain and brokenness we experience in our lives, I do believe God redeems it.

Christ is the exemplar of this redemptive power of God through the cross and resurrection. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds [we] have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). In Jesus’ woundedness for our sake, we are offered grace upon grace. God can transform our wounds, our failures, our weakness into avenues of grace for ourselves and others. May we find that grace and claim it, wherever we find ourselves in this season. 

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