(Originally posted January 22, 2009)
Part of my job entails keeping up with the comings and goings of about one thousand college students. All have arrived at the doorstep of adult responsibility, and all must walk through as best they can. Some glide. Others stumble.
Students are constantly arriving, eager to fill their hungry minds and lavish themselves in newly found freedom. Others have found that those freedoms can lead to all sorts of trouble and so are on their way back home.
The status of these students must be cataloged and recorded and then shared with various departments by way of email. Very businesslike, these emails. Concise and emotionless. But they are to me snapshots of lives in transition.
One such message came across the computer yesterday. The usual fare—student’s name and identification number, and her status. But then there was this:
She will not be returning and is withdrawing.
She failed everything.
As I said, businesslike. Concise and emotionless.
I’ve always had a problem with brevity. I have a habit of explaining a small notion with a lot of words. Which I guess is why that email struck me so hard. Here was three months of a person’s life, ninety days of experiences and feelings, summed up in three words:
She failed everything.
Though I don’t know this person, I can sympathize. I’ve been there. Many times. I know what it’s like to begin something with the best of intentions and an abundance of hope, only to see everything fall apart. I know what it feels like to realize that no matter how hard you try, you just can’t. Can’t win. Can’t succeed. Can’t make it.
I know what it feels like to fail. Everything.
When my kids were born, I wanted to be the perfect father. Always attentive. Never frustrated. Nurturing. Understanding. And I was. At first, anyway. But things like colic and spitting up and poopy diapers can wear on a father. They can make a father a little inattentive, not so nurturing, and very frustrated. So I failed at being the perfect father.
Same goes for being the perfect husband, by the way. I failed even more at that.
And I had the perfect dream, too. What better life is there than that of a writer? But no, that one hasn’t gone as expected. Failure again.
At various times, struggling through each of those things, I’ve done exactly what young girl in the email did. I withdrew. Not from college. From life. I gave up. Surrendered. Why bother, I thought.
But I learned something. I learned there’s sometimes a big difference between what we try to do and what we actually accomplish. That many times we don’t succeed because there’s an equally big difference between what we want and what God wants.
That failure is never the end. It can be, of course. We can withdraw and not return. Or we can learn that it is only when we fail that we truly draw near to God. We can better understand the that our prayers must sometimes be returned to us for revision. Not make me this or give me that, but Thy will be done.
I’ve failed everything. Many times.
I may not have made myself the perfect father, but God has made me a good dad.
I may not have become the perfect husband, but God has shown me how to be a soul mate.
I may not write for money, but I do write for people.
Failure has not been my enemy. Failure has been my salvation.
Our lives have broken places not so we can surrender to life, but so we can surrender to God. And failure will hollow us and leave us empty only so we may be able to hold more joy.