And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Matthew 16:22-23
Of all of the people whose lives are chronicled in the Bible, Peter is one of my favorites. Got to love Peter. When he’s confronted with any given scenario, and an opportunity exists to: a) say something profound; b) say something incredibly wise; or, c) open his mouth and insert his lower extremity, Peter is going with “c” virtually every time. Whether at the Transfiguration, at Caesarea Philippi, in the Upper Room, with the circumcision party, or in a courtyard being fiercely interrogated by a small girl, whenever there’s a time when most of us would think, “now would probably be a good time for me to just stop talking”, Peter rushes ahead, tongue impetuously circumventing cerebral cortex, on a collision course with embarrassment or repentance or rebuke.
And, yet, is there a more bold, more faithful, greater leader of the newborn Church than Peter—Peter the brave, Peter the well-spoken, Peter the healer, Peter the Rock upon whom the Church was built? It’s obvious that this Peter did not get to that point overnight. The old Peter became the new Peter through successive failure, through falling down and getting up again and learning anew, becoming better than he once was with every scar and scab.
It seems that great leaders for God’s Kingdom always learn the hard way. God’s anointing brings with it induction into the school of suffering and failure. Failure is inevitable, if one is going to be prepared to lead God’s people, if one is going to move past the soft, warm comfort of mediocrity to a state of fierce reliance on God’s promises. One’s successful response to failure brings clarity, perseverance, integrity, maturity, and wisdom, all traits that one needs to lead and love well in life.
So, why are we so hesitant to allow our children to fail? Why do we try to manipulate unbridled success for them, lobbying teachers and coaches for good grades and playing time, doing everything within and without our power to prevent discomfort and heartache? Why do we let them make decisions that they’re too young to make, while at the same time impeding them from making choices that will help them grow? If we’re honest, I think it’s various combinations of fear over their impending discomfort, dread over the hassle and heartache we’ll experience in walking through that with them, and (most uncomfortably) fear that the messiness of their failure will make us look bad as parents (Your results may vary).
My friend Mickey was reminding me of psychologist Erik Erikson’s stages of development from birth to adulthood. Most students in our school are either in the “industry v. inferiority” stage (6-11 years old-learning to develop a sense of competence with social and academic demands) or the “identity v. role confusion” stage (12-18, where they develop a sense of self and personal identity). Both of these stages require conflict and struggle to pass through successfully, and learning to deal with some kind of failure. I wonder if so many 20-somethings struggle through living with their parents as they try to “find themselves” because we’ve delayed their development by intervening to prevent the very conflict, struggle, and suffering that allow them to grow.
Letting kids fail is not for the faint of heart. It requires realizing that they’re created for eternity, and that God is as concerned with using this life as a testing ground than as a playground. It requires us to roll up our sleeves and dig down into the messiness of their failure, even when we’re tired and we know that, in their pain, they’ll yell at us or get defensive or cry or throw things, and this whole process could take hours or days. It sometimes requires that we walk confidently, knowing that the Lord is doing a great work in our kids, even when we fear our friends saying, “those poor parents…” behind our backs.
Successfully, prayerfully negotiating failure is how Simons become Peters and Sauls become Pauls and Abrams become Abrahams and Jacobs become Israels. Do we love them enough to empower them to fail?