First Congregational United Church of Christ
Great Falls, MT
October 28, 2018
“Giving Thanks in Times of Failure”
The Rev. Lynne Spencer-Smith
Matthew 14:22-33 (NRSV)
22Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
There was a time in my life that I thought I could do daycare in my own home. I had two young children of my own. I liked children… at least until they hit early adolescence and then… well, let’s just say it’s a good thing they grow out of that stage. I taught the kindergarten Sunday School class so I had access to some good arts n crafts ideas and, I had learned to speak little kid language. We had a fenced in back yard. We lived on a quiet street and had friends who needed day care just like we did. Perfect. While I was raising my own two children, I could take on a few others during the day, stay home and life would be great.
Well, Monday through Friday, they started to arrive about 7 in the morning, some, having had breakfast, some bringing it with them, some nothing. So, there would always be some cereal and bananas on hand. We’d play for a bit and then it was time to take the 3 kindergartners to school. We’d all pile into the Suburban and off we’d go, drop the school kids off and then maybe go to the park or back home for some play time. We’d have lunch, take a nap, go pick up the school kids and come back home. There might be a little homework or we’d do a little craft, play in the basement or the backyard or watch some television. There was lots of giggling and fun. And, along the way, there were bound to be fights, boo-boos, and tears. Runny noses, accidents, and vomit. By six o’clock, they’d all be gone…. Except the two that kept calling me “Mom.” There were nights that I wanted to send them home with some of those other parents. “I’ve had yours all day. Would you take mine for a while?”
Fortunately, about six months into this venture, a friend that I had gone to nursing school with called and asked if I’d be interested in working at a care facility. They were looking for nurses and I could start as soon as I wanted.
Tomorrow? Is what I wanted to say… but didn’t. I owed it to the kids and their parents to give them a good notice. So, within the next 6 weeks my career as a child day care provider was behind me. I have a whole new appreciation for those who do such work. As for me, I had failed at what I thought would have been the easiest job in the world.
It took me a long time to shift from looking at this as me failing at providing childcare to a failure to accurately discern my gifts. I had to come to the realization that just because I didn’t have what it took to tend other people’s kids 9 hours a day, five days a week, and then enjoy my own, it didn’t mean that I don’t like kids. I do. I’m just not cut out to do day care.
Last week, I invited you to tell your story, your narrative, from the perspective of gratitude, finding those places in your life that define who you are in positive terms and I’m not contradicting that today. It’s a balancing thing. When we balance the narrative of our lives, we present and own a more complete and whole picture of who we are. We realize that life is hard. We make mistakes. We fail. And yet, and yet, even in failure, gratitude can exist.
I look at this story of Peter attempting to walking on water and see within it that example of failure. I see me being so eager to offer day care and then realizing that I had gotten myself into it deeper than I thought and needed the gentle hand of someone showing a way out before I drowned.
I mean look at Peter. Peter was this guy who must have had some things going for him in the eyes of Jesus. He was one of the first called to be a disciple. He was like Jesus’ right hand man. He was the Rock upon which Christ would build his church. But when the waves were too much for him, he folded. That “rock” sank and needed to be pulled up out of the depths before he drowned.
And that wasn’t the only time that those who walked with Jesus failed. Time and time again, the disciples failed to understand who Jesus was. They saw him heal people and still didn’t get it. They saw him feed thousands from practically nothing and they still didn’t get it. They swore their loyalty to him and then denied and deserted him. Yet, it was to these and others that the resurrection was first revealed. Isn’t it amazing what God can do with failure? It wasn’t to the people who always got it right that were given the gift of proclaiming, “Christ is risen!”
So, before we have the great success story of God, we have a bunch of stories of failures. And, after the great success story of God, we have a bunch of stories of failure. But, doesn’t that one big success story shed some hope into all our failures? Doesn’t knowing that God can bring life into death open up the way to look at our own failures and see where it is that God might be trying to reveal a little resurrection or two?
If the stories that the church calls “sacred” include stories of failure from even those who were closest to Jesus, why can we not tell our own stories of failure and use them to help us be grateful?
When I look back at that time that while I was still doing day care but realizing that I just wasn’t good at it, that all day long I was eager for the end of the day when moms and dads would pick up their kids, the thing that concerned me the most is that I was beginning to resent my own kids… the ones that never left.
It took a while to realize that I was not a failure at caring for kids, I just needed to show that care differently. From doing day care at home, I went to work caring for kids in a medical facility. And, I gained a whole new appreciation for those who do care for other people’s kids all day long.
The reality is, even the most successful of people have experience failures.
Walt Disney was once told that he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.
Dr. Suess’ first book was rejected by 27 different publishers.
Albert Einstein didn’t speak until the age of 4, failed the exam to enter the Swiss Polytechnic School in Zurich and then nearly dropped out because he was doing so poorly.
If failure is part of these people’s story’s why can’t we recognize it as part of our own? Why not be honest with ourselves and admit that we’re not perfect…. never have been, never will. Failure is part of life. And why not allow ourselves the opportunity to let gratitude arise from those failures?
I look back on my time as a day care provider and I’m grateful that I had friends who trusted me with their children. I’m grateful for the fun times I had with those kids and being able to be a part, albeit a short part, of their lives. I’m grateful that I realized I wasn’t cut out for that work before any damage could be done… to my kids or the children of others. And, I’m grateful for and so appreciative of those who do day care and do it well.
There is always something worthwhile that can come out of anything that we perceive as failure, if we allow ourselves to reflect on those things from the perspective of gratitude. What kernel of hope might come out of spending time walking around in our failures and discovering something for which to be grateful in them? Good memories? Hard lessons learned? A deeper understanding and appreciation of others? The realization that no matter how bad you might have failed, it’s not the end of the world. Really, its not.
It’s about knowing that resurrection isn’t just about new life after we’re through with this one. It’s also about recognizing that God can take even our deepest failures and create something new and good from them. It’s about realizing and trusting that there will be something, someone, somehow will reach out a hand and catch us, just as the wind ceases and we realize that failure does not mean the end. It means another chance to try again, to try differently, to see differently, to realize that God will and does even speak through what we consider failures.
Thanks be to God.