July 15, 2013
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. Walking through, they find, is not an option. How they walk through, however, is entirely up to them. Some glide. Others stumble.
Students are constantly arriving, eager to fill their hungry minds and lavish themselves in the newfound freedom that college life offers. Unfortunately, some find that those freedoms can lead to the sort of trouble that leads them back home.
The status of these students is 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 particular email struck me.
Here was three months of a person’s life, ninety days of someone’s experiences and feelings and thoughts, summed up in three words:
She failed everything.
Though I didn’t know this person, I could sympathize. I’d been there. Many times. I knew what it was like to begin something with the best of intentions and an abundance of hope, only to see everything fall apart. I knew what it felt like to realize no matter how hard you try, you sometimes just can’t. Can’t win. Can’t succeed. Can’t make it.
I knew what it felt 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 sleeplessness and messy diapers can wear on a father. They can make a father a little inattentive sometimes, sometimes 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 that 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. And that many times we don’t succeed because there’s an equally big difference between what we want and what God wants.
I learned, too, that failure is never the end. It can be, of course. We can withdraw and not return, as that student will do. Or we can learn that it is only when we fail that we truly draw near to God. Those are the times when we can better understand 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.
And I’ve also been remade.
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 me, 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. Our failures can hollow us, yes. But only so He may fill that emptiness with joy.
The Billy Coffey Collection