Handling Failure—In Ourselves and Others

Handling Failure—In Ourselves and Others

Some years ago a psychologist named Aldrich published a fascinating article about his work in social services, spending most of his time with teenagers who had been arrested for shoplifting or other theft. Aldrich interviewed them to find out how they had come to this. He also talked with the parents, attempting to discover how they had handled the problem from the first time they knew about it.

Over the years he kept records of his interviews, noting that they seemed to separate into two types. One group of teens became repeat offenders and showed up in the criminal justice system again and again. The other was a collection of those who were with him one time and then stayed straight.

He came to the conclusion that there were basically two different ways that parents responded to the initial shoplifting incident. Some parents confronted their children with words like this: “Now we know what you’re like! You’re a thief! We’re going to be watching you now, buddy! Don’t think you can get away with this again!”

The other group of parents usually said something like this: “Tom, that wasn’t like you at all! We’ll have to go back to the store and clear this thing up, but then it’s done with, okay? What you did was wrong. You know that it was wrong. But we’re sure you won’t do it again.”

Aldrich said that the parents who assumed the worst usually got the worst, and the parents who assumed the best most often got the best.

Eyes of Love

Much that pretends to be Christian religion seems to have a rather negative view of the human spirit. Although the Bible speaks prophetically in judgment against blatant sinfulness, there are also many passages in scripture that tell of God’s delight in his children. More than that, the Fruit of the Spirit, which the apostle Paul says becomes the way of life for someone who is loved by God, is itself “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). As God looks with tender eyes at us, so we are encouraged to view ourselves and others with grace.

That can be a powerful influence in a person’s life. One writer tells of attending a business conference where awards were being given for outstanding achievements during the past fiscal year. A woman was called to the podium to receive the company’s top honor. Clutching her trophy, she beamed out at the crowd of over 3000 people. Yet in that moment of triumph, she had eyes for only one person. She looked directly at her supervisor, a woman named Joan.

The award-winner told of the difficult times that she had gone through only a few years earlier. She had experienced personal problems, and, for a time her work had suffered. Some people turned away from her, counting it a liability to be seen with her. Others wrote her off as a loser in the company.

The worst part was that she felt they were right. She had stopped at Joan’s desk several times with a letter of resignation in her hand. She knew she was a failure.

But Joan said, “Let’s just wait a little bit longer.” And Joan said, “Give it one more try.” And Joan said, “I never would have hired you if I didn’t think you could handle it!”

The woman’s voice broke. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she softly said, “Joan believed in me more than I believed in myself!”

From Prosecutor to Prism

Isn’t that the message of the Gospel? Isn’t that the story of the Bible? That God believed in us while we were still sinners, while we were still failures, while we were at the point in our lives that we couldn’t seem to make it on our own?

Sometimes we need the straightedge of God’s law in order to see how bent we are. But sometimes, when the law is a mirror of our great God, it helps us learn to smile at others like he has at us.

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