The Beauty of Failure

I recently asked my 2-year-old daughter what she wanted to be when she grows up. I've asked her before, and she usually comes up with something like, "A cow." Or "A sleepy doggy like Charlie," (our sleep-all-day basset hound). But this day, she looked at me very thoughtfully and said, "A scientist? A....rocket scientist?"

I love this answer for lots of reasons (we can talk another time about the role of women in traditionally male-dominated fields) - but one reason was because it reflected some books we'd been reading lately. A couple of favourite stories have been Rosie Revere, Engineer and Ada Twist, Scientist. Both books tell the story of a little girl who was filled with curiosity, and who wanted to do or make or discover something big. And they worked hard and tried and tried...and then it didn't work. 

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In both stories, their experiments fail. Rosie Revere tried to engineer a cheese-copter that only flew for a few seconds, and Ada Twist couldn't find what made the terrible smell in her house. But, as both girls learned - what was important was their trying. The experiment was the important thing - the failure was the important thing - because it got them one step closer to their end goal. Because they were willing to try, and even fail, they were able to learn something new that would launch them to the next steps in solving the problem.

The failure could be celebrated, because they tried and they learned. And now they could move on to what's next.

In my grown-up reading, I came across a great article by Dr. Karen Wilk, a pastor and church planter in Edmonton, Alberta, entitled "Experimental Discipleship." Here, Wilk suggests that - especially in new churches or new initiatives in churches - experimentation is hugely important not only as a program-focus, but as a means of discipleship. When we as followers of Christ step out into our neighbourhoods and communities and try something new in the name of Jesus, we allow ourselves to experiment. Because it's new, it may or may not work - just like Rosie Revere's cheese-copter. Any new ministry or initiative or plan may connect with our neighbours or it may not. But, Wilk argued, we can rejoice even in our failures because it helps launch us to the next level of what God wants us to do. In our experimentation, we open ourselves up to the work of the Spirit to grow us closer to who God wants us to be.

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You might remember me writing about our neighbourhood ice cream party that my family and I hosted on our street in the summer. This ice cream party was a HUGE success - we had 15 households join us on our front yard for a bowl of ice cream and great conversation, allowing us space to get to know each other in simple but deeply meaningful ways. Jeremy and I have committed together to do this kind of thing on a fairly regular basis in an attempt to get to know our neighbours and enact the love of Christ with and for them. So, in December, we hosted a Christmas party. We sort of co-opted our monthly worship gathering on the 2nd Saturday of December and made it a Christmas party. We invited our usual gathering folks, plus some friends from other walks of life, plus our entire street. And, when that night came, a bunch of our friends came, a few of our gathering folks came...and one neighbour.

Just one.

There is so much to celebrate about that evening. We had a great time with our friends from both within and outside of the church. Our home was full of 25 people, from babies to empty-nesters to everywhere in between. We sang Christmas carols, we shared a meal, we drank some wine - it was wonderful.

And at the end of the night, I was so disappointed that only one neighbour came. 

Yes, our house was full and the evening was wonderful, but I had pinned so much hope on our neighbours coming and joining us for the evening again - just like we did in the summer. 

And then, that night, I read Ada Twist, Scientist to my daughter for the 800,000th time. And little Ada Twist taught me - again - that experiments are important. Failure is important. Things not going exactly as we hoped are important. Because then we can learn from them and regroup and reframe our questions and refocus our efforts and let ourselves be launched into next steps. And Karen Wilk reminded me that experimentation is, in fact, discipleship. I had opened up my home and my heart not just to my friends, but to the Holy Spirit to work in and through me by having this great experiment of a Christmas party. And there was so much beauty on that night, as well as a little bit of failure - and God could use all of it to bring me to the next level of what He has for me and who He wants me to become.

So, friends. Go out and fail. Go out and be bold and do something experimental in the name of Jesus Christ. And then celebrate both what went well and what totally bombed. Because both of them are part of God's work of discipleship in you, of making you more and more into the person He wants you to become. The important thing is that you go.