When You Fail

Jacob Williamson was supremely confident he was right.

Until he wasn’t.

Fifteen year-old Jacob was a finalist in the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee, making it all the way to the end. Check that. Jacob made it almost to the end.

His confidence and enthusiasm throughout the competition had already made him perhaps the most well known of the contestants. And as he spelled word after word correctly, rolling through the competition, it was clear that winning was his passion.

Then, Jacob rose to the podium and heard the moderator announce his next word, kabaragoya – a large type of monitor lizard. Jacob was jubilant.

“I know it! I totally know it!” he exclaimed. Then, with supreme confidence, he started. “OK, kabaragoya. C-A-B-A-R-A-G-O-Y-A.” When the bell sounding incorrect rang, Jacob was aghast. He cried out, “What?!” Then, clearly disappointed, he left the stage.

If you’re a parent, you hope you know what Jacob’s parents said to him afterward.

When a young man with passion and commitment, who obviously spent hundreds of hours preparing, fails – and fails for millions of people to see – what must he hear? Most importantly, I suppose, we hope the first words he heard from his parents backstage were, “We love you and we’re proud of you.”

This is not the time to create a teachable moment, to provide advice for doing better next time, to be motivated to work harder in the future. It is the time to hear, “We’re so glad you’re our boy.”

As parents, we simply understand what love looks like at the moment of failure.

So why would we imagine God doing anything less when we fall down? Why would we imagine Him as lightening raging from the sky or as a disgusted slave driver?

He is, perhaps especially in our moments of failure, Abba Father.