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The One Thing that most often gets in the way of Failing Successfully

Whenever I read “The One Thing” in a headline, my Crap Detector (sorry, that’s the technical term…) starts pegging out.  One thing?  Really?  Your life is so simple one thing is all it takes to make things work right, or to keep things from going wrong?  Hmmm.

I think I’m safe with the title of this post, though.  The qualifier “most often” takes me off the hook.  I find one thing most often getting in the way of failing successfully in my life, and in the lives of people I work with.

The one thing?  Fear.  Specifically, the fear of rejection.

This is the compelling fear in my life.  I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t.  I want to be liked.  I want to be accepted.  I want to be popular.  And cool.  How sad is that?  I’m 66 years old, and I still want the same basic things I wanted when I was in Jr. High (back before there was such a thing as Middle School).

I don’t have any right to make you guilty of my weaknesses and shortcomings, but I have a very strong feeling that I’m not the only one who suffers from this irrational besetting emotion.  The irrationality of it doesn’t keep it from being intensely powerful.  An idea or an emotion doesn’t have to be true to be powerful.  (You may want to post that last sentence on your Facebook page.  It’s one of the few quotable sentences I’ve ever written.  Except if you do, be prepared to be identified as a hater.)

If you struggle with the fear of rejection, chances are good that your kids will, too.  So if you don’t want to bequeath it to them, you’ll need to go to work on it in your own life.  And in my experience, it will be work.

Start here: Jia Jiang  This Chinese immigrant’s story will take you about 15 minutes to watch, but it could be the best 15 minutes you’ll spend (actually, invest) today.  Go ahead.  Click on the Jia Jiang link, and turn the audio up.

Yer welcome.

Part 2 of One Essential Skill You’re Probably Not Teaching Your Kids

(If you didn’t get in on Part 1 of this, check it out here: One Essential Skill…)

Learning how to fail successfully a huge and useful skill  (I’d even say essential) for living a life that stretches toward potential and fulfillment.  But it’s a skill that not many people actually learn.

I offered three opening steps for teaching your kids how to fail successfully in Part One of this mini-series: talk about failure observationally, establish the function of failure, and once you’ve identified the failure and its function, stop doing it.  It’s not rocket science, really, but no one taught me this stuff when I was a kid.  If you had a teacher for it, you should thank God every day for putting that person in your life.

These three opening steps for teaching (and learning) how to fail successfully aren’t the totality of this skill, but if you start here, you can build on them for a deeper and even more effective run at what life sends your way.

Here’s how I recommend you build on these three opening steps: look for what may have worked in the failure.  Another way to say this is harvest any good from the failure.

There’s an old story about a farmer who had a peach tree in the back yard.  It produced a healthy crop of peaches every year.  One year when the branches were bending under the weight of a new crop, he asked his son to pick the peaches so his mom could can them.

But before the son could get the peaches picked, a storm blew through.  A gust of wind broke a peach-laden branch off the tree.

When the wind and the rain stopped, the boy went out to pick the peaches.  The broken branch lay in the wet grass, with hardly a peach off of it.  But when the boy looked closer, he saw why the branch had come down in the storm.  It had rotted from the inside.  The outside looked like a normal peach tree, and it had produced good fruit, but the tree was dying.

“Dad,” he said, “you better take a look at the peach tree.”

Dad inspected the fallen branch and where it had split from the tree, and stepped back.

“What do you think we should do?” the son asked.

“Well, we’ll harvest the fruit and burn the wood.”

That’s what I’m talking about here.  Harvest the fruit and burn the wood.  Take anything you can from the failure – the fruit.  But don’t keep the wood, the failure itself.

In lots of families, the wood stays in the front room where everybody sees it regularly.  Failures are rehashed and recalled and rubbed in.  There’s usually no real humor in the retelling, either, even if everybody else laughs.  Just the ever-present wood of failure that gets pointed to over and over again.  It’s just one click from there to the person who experienced the failure being tagged a failure.  And the grinding wheel of shame starts turning and turning and turning.  Relentlessly.  Endlessly.

Most failures carry at least a little fruit.  You have to look hard to find it sometimes, but it’s probably there.  So look for it.  What is there here that can be built upon?  Is there anything at all that is worth remembering for the future?  Is there anything here that might work in a different situation?

There are failures that are so profound there’s really no fruit in them.  I know.  Been there, done that.  At the very least, though, there’s what I call the Edison effect in these overwhelming failures.  At least I know one thing that doesn’t work.  No need to go down that dead end again.

The great advantage of harvesting the fruit and burning the wood is that the wood of the failure doesn’t have to get in your way.  When you or your kid is able to burn the wood, you can do what the Apostle Paul wrote about in Philippians 3:13 & 14. “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

It’s hard to press on meaningfully to a better future, toward the prize for which God called you, when you’re dragging the wood of past failures around with you.

So teach your kids how to harvest the fruit and burn the wood.

This fits in the Show and Tell bucket.  You tell them how to do this.  You have to give some direct verbal instruction on it.  But you can’t stop there.  You have to show them what this looks like.  The power of your example is unexaggeratable (I know, that’s not even a word).  You can’t exaggerate the power of your example.  It will virtually always trump your words.

I once heard that kids nearly never remember what you say, but nearly never forget what you do.  I’d say that’s true about 99.9999% of the time.

The question, then, becomes, “How do you deal with failure?”

Don’t beat yourself up with the question.  That’ll only foster more failure.  Just take a good look at your life and decide what you can do to model failing successfully more effectively for your kids.  That’s a mouthful.  And it’s maybe the biggest challenge I can throw.

This is not a solo act, though.  You won’t be able to pull it off all by yourself.  And you don’t need to try to tackle this alone.  You spouse and your kids can partner with you.  You’ll have to ask them for this, and that will probably mean swallowing your pride and admitting that you need their help, but the short-term pain pays off in long-term gain.  

You’re in a partnership with God, too (a 4-way partnership between God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, and you).  Nobody wants you to learn how to fail successfully more than God does.  So lean into this partnership.  God wants to answer your prayer for grace to learn and model this essential skill.

Harvest the fruit.  Burn the wood.


One Essential Skill You’re Probably Not Teaching Your Kids

One of the smartest exercises any parent can do is to make a list of all the skills you think are essential for your kids to lean before they leave home.  Not just important, but essential.  Skills nobody can live their best life without.  This list should start long but get whittled down to a list of half-a-dozen or so.  If you can, you may want to knock it down to 3 or 4.  Really!?  So there are that few essential skills?  Well, 3 or 4 may be too few.  But nobody can work on more than 6 things at a time, so don’t feel bad if you have to let some pretty good stuff go off of your draft list.

Whatever your list looks like, give yourself a quick (and soft) pat on the back once you’ve made it.  You’re a member of a very small group of intentional parents.  I mean really small.  If you want to bring a dinner party to a grinding halt, right before dessert is served, ask everybody what their list of essential skills for their kids looks like.  The odds overwhelmingly favor that you’ll be the only one at the gathering who knows what you’re talking about, let alone has a list.

Here’s one essential skill that I want you to put on your list: HOW TO FAIL SUCCESSFULLY.

Some people may appear to just be able to do this naturally, on an instinctive level, but I don’t think it’s natural or instinctive.  I think it’s a skill that everybody has to acquire.  Some people may acquire it more easily than others, but everybody has to learn how to fail successfully.

Here’s where you should start: talk about failure observationally.  My spell check doesn’t even recognize observationally as a word.  But it should.  Here’s why.  When I make an observation, it’s just an observation.  It doesn’t have to be judgmental.  It’s just me saying what I observe.  It’s not a value statement.  Anyway, it shouldn’t be.  It’s just an objective statement about something I see.  No judgement.  

It would probably sound something like this: “Hmmm.  That didn’t work so well, did it?”  Use your own words.  But make sure you don’t infer judgment.  You’re just making an observation.  Making a non-judgmental observation will often open a door for you to help your child think through what happened and identify what didn’t work, so they can decide not to do it again.  But if they feel judged by you, don’t expect them to be excited about you giving them input about all the ways they could do better next time.

Here’s the second thing: establish the function of failure.  Sounds stupid, I know.  But if you don’t get this right, you’ll never leverage failure for anything but feeling like a failure.  The function of failure is pretty simple, really.  It’s to help you identify what doesn’t work.

Thomas Edison is said to have answered an interviewer who asked him how it felt to have tried and failed with many thousand possible elements for his incandescent light bulb, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  Man I wish I knew who taught him to frame things up that way!  I wish I’d been taught that way when I was a kid.

For me, failure wasn’t a signal that I may be moving in the right direction, because I’m eliminating dead ends.  It was a signal that I was a failure, because I failed.  Nobody ever used these words.  They didn’t have to.  I picked it up without any verbal communication.  When you fail, you’re a failure.  It’s the gift that keeps on giving.  I’m 66, and I still have to try and do a work-around for this erroneous idea many times every day.  The actual truth is that when I fail, I’m not a failure.  I just experience failure in that particular endeavor.  It doesn’t define me.  It shouldn’t, anyway.

Third thing: teach your kids that once you identify what doesn’t work, stop doing it.  Easy-peasy.  NOT!  One of the hardest things in life is to stop doing things that don’t work.  Unless, that is, you have someone (like a parent or some other influential person in your life) teach you how to build the habit of learning from your mistakes, so you won’t repeat your failures.  We’re all pretty much broken toys, and we generally have this magnetic attraction that draws us back to doing things that don’t work.  “Maybe if I just try harder, that’ll make the difference.  I don’t know anything else to do, so I’ll just do what I’ve done before, and just put in a better effort.  Who knows, maybe it’ll work this time.”

Einstein is credited with saying, “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is insanity.”  Al was a smart guy.

There are probably dozens of ways to teach a kid how not to keep doing things that don’t work, but I know one way that will NEVER help anybody learn how to stop doing things that don’t work.  Especially when this technique is used by parents, teachers and coaches.  Shaming never promotes stopping what doesn’t work.  Not for the long haul.  It may create a temporary effect, but the collateral damage it leaves behind will actually make it harder to stop doing what doesn’t work.  And not just with the particular activity that comes under the spotlight.  I’ll write more about this later.  For now, just take my word for it.  Shame never promotes stopping what doesn’t work.


OK.  I’ve used up my allotment of words, so I’ll pause here.  There’s more I want to say about this.  You’ll need to come back and check on the “Part 2” of this.


I don’t give guarantees, because there are so few things in life (especially in relationships) that can be guaranteed.  So I’m not giving a guarantee about this, but I’ll tell you if you put these three things into play in your relationship with pretty much anyone, you will widen the odds that you’ll have a chance to have positive and helpful input into the whole failing successfully thing.

You’re Not The Boss Of Me

If you’re a parent or a teacher, you’ve heard that phrase.  Maybe from your spouse.

Sorry to be autobiographical, but this move Debbie and I are making has me seeing things about myself, and one of them has to do with this endearing phrase.  I’m smart enough not to say it out loud, but it pops into my head.

In our moving adventure, Debbie’s the foreman.  She’s been organizing and sorting and packing boxes, and telling me what needs to be done next.  This is a good thing.  She’s very good at organizing and administrating.  She’s a planner and a list-maker.  She gets things done.  Great qualities for the moving foreman.

She’s also a morning person.  I’m not.  This matters to the moving thing because she starts her work almost right out of bed in the morning.  It takes me a Quiet Time and two cups of coffee before I’m ready to face the day.  So while I’m trying to get a discernible pulse, she’s up and going after it.  Most days so far, before my brain has sifted through the mental fog and is making neural connections, she’s got decisions for me to make and things she’d like me to do.

That’s when I have to fight the phrase.  As much as I agree with what she’s doing, and as grateful as I am for the fact that she’s taking charge of these things that I hate doing, there’s still this part of me that just doesn’t like being told what to do.  The four year-old Stevie steps up and tries to take the microphone so he can shout, “You’re not the boss of me!” into it.

It’s not like Debbie’s commanding, “Lift that bale, tote that barge!”  She’s not.  She’s asking me if I would mind doing what’s next on her list when I’ve got time to do it.  And the things on her list need to be done, so it’s not like she’s inventing work.  All her requests are reasonable.  And they’re requests, not demands.  

I realize this emotional dissonance is a maturity issue.  Mature people know both how to give orders and how to take them.  Mature people know how to be in charge and how to respond positively to the one who’s put in charge.  Mature people don’t complain.  They apply themselves appropriately and contribute to the goals and objectives.  Immature people complain and gripe and resist directives.  Immature people put off doing things they don’t really like doing until the last possible minute, and then they often do them poorly.

Can you guess which (maturity or immaturity) is showing up most in my head these days?

As an “older adult,” you’d think I would be able to push the immature voice away and step up to the pressing task with intention and energy because of my maturity.  Right.  I’m afraid I’ll be the guy that will be resisting someone else’s directive all the way to the morgue.  I’m still very much on a journey toward maturity.  In a slow boat.  Against the current.  With a bent paddle.  Being given requests from my beautiful moving foreman has reminded me of my struggle toward adulting maturely.

We’ll survive this move, and what’s on the other side of it will be good and productive.  Who knows?  It may be the most productive chapter of life for us so far.  I’m trusting God for this.  The moving part is no fun, but I’m trusting God for the maturity to do it well.  Or as well as I can.

Funny thing about trust.  For me anyway.  I don’t just put my trust in God for whatever, and then do what’s next.  It’s not an event.  Not a one-time event, anyway.  I have to keep putting it and putting it and putting it.  Like how you have to put a puppy, and put it, and put it before it will actually stay.  And sometimes if you could put it back an infinite number of times, it would still try and get away to whatever it was trying to get to.  That’s basically how my trust is.  Can I get an amen?

I’m trusting God to give me what I need to be able to do what my kind moving foreman asks me to do with a cheerful heart and good energy.  I’m trusting God to walk with me and guide me through this life-chapter of transition with integrity and good will.  But I’m re-putting and re-putting and re-putting my trust in Him for this many times every day.

On one level, this is just the human condition.  We’re broken.  Sin does that.  It breaks stuff.  So because of my brokenness, I’m instruction-resistant.  I have to reset my trust hundreds of times because my default is still doing what makes me happy (which is most of the time what’s easy), not so much what should be done next.  Trust isn’t easy for me.

But my brokenness isn’t an excuse for my immaturity and my ever-present resistance, that loud little voice in my head shouting, “You’re not the boss of me!”  It’s one part of a complex explanation for it, but it’s not an excuse.  Having maturity issues is understandable and human.  But clinging to them is, well, #jps (Just Plane Stupid).

If not for two things, I would be hopeless in this struggle.  Thing number one: God doesn’t resent me for being slow to grow up and respond out of maturity.  He gets it.  He knows I’m but dust.  And thing number two: because of His grace and love, instead of just punishing me for my immaturity and leaving me in time out, he disciplines me (often firmly, but always lovingly) toward maturity.  He teaches me.  His goal is to grow me up.  The theological term for this is sanctification.  I’m coming to learn more and more that one of the things this means is that He hasn’t given up on me.  Even when I shake my fist at Him and scream, “You’re not the boss of me!”

There’s only a few dozen applications of this in your marriage and family.  Look in the mirror with your heart and let God show you where He wants to grow you toward greater maturity.  Where are you resisting people who you should be cooperating with?  Who are you having the biggest struggle with in this?  And why do you think that is?  If they’re a bad leader, I get that.  But if it’s just because your four year-old self is stomping your metaphorical foot and shouting, “You’re not the boss of me!”, well, you may need to get over it and grow up.

Sorry if you were hoping I’d give you a workable formula for dealing with your pre-schooler and their, “You’re not the boss of me!” behaviors.  The more you deal with your own behaviors and patterns on this, the better you’ll be able to deal with theirs.  Honest.  You may have to trust me on that.  More importantly, you’ll have to trust God for this.  And, believe me, you’ll have to put your trust there and put it there and put it there.  It’s Ok.  He doesn’t resent you for this, and He won’t give up on you.




Once upon a time there was an Italian-made puppet who, through a series of interesting events and circumstances, came to life.  He was given a significant advantage in this process in the form of a cricket named Jimminy (or Jiminy, if you prefer the alternate spelling).  Jimminy was an exceedingly wise and discerning cricket.  His main job was to urge the boy-who-used-to-be-a-puppet to make good choices.  The majority of his time and energy was in trying to steer this former puppet away from bad decisions.  Unfortunately, his advice and urgings weren’t followed often enough, to the harm of the puppet-boy.

If you’re an oldster, you know I’m talking about Pinocchio.  Disney’s animated version of this fable is still available on those nearly-antiquated things called DVDs, so if you haven’t seen it, you could probably find it in the $5 bin at Walmart or buy it from somebody on eBay.  It’s a colorful morality play, actually.  A story about learning to listen to one’s conscience.  It’s not biblical, and it’s not even psychologically accurate in every detail, but it’s an entertaining story worth watching, even with all it’s disconnects from reality.

Aside from the parts of the story where Pinocchio’s nose grows when he tells a lie, my favorite part is Jimminy Cricket.  That small voice of reason that constantly tries to guide Pinocchio away from harmful choices and toward beneficial ones.  He doesn’t force Pinocchio to do anything.  He just speaks his suggestions.  And if Pinocchio would have listened, he would have had far less trouble in his journey toward full boyhood.

One of the famous lines from this animated movie is, “Always let your conscience be your guide.”  This is good advice.  Well, as long as your conscience has been educated to offer good advice.  Because how your conscience is educated makes all the difference here.  And that’s what I want to think about in this blog.

I believe all of us have been given a conscience as a gift from God.  There is a part of us – a spiritual part of us – that has a sense of what’s basically right and what’s basically wrong.  But from the moment the physiology of our brain develops to allow reasoning, our conscience is being educated.  Culture and the influence of significant people in your life helped you educate your conscience.  There’s a ton that goes into this, but all I want to suggest here is that we educate our conscience, and, as parents and grandparents (and teachers, coaches, etc.), we educate the consciences of the children under our care and influence.

One of the great stewardships God has given us is to thoughtfully contribute to the education of our young charges.  For Christians, we are bound to the standards of Scripture for the boundaries of conscience.  The fundamental right and wrong are clear in the Bible, even though there are many specific cases where right and wrong must be interpreted from the fundamentals we have there.  I’m talking about basic morality here.  You can make it theology if you want to, but it’s still basic morality that must be taught and caught.  There are many ways and styles of doing this.  But whether you and I believe we’re teaching and modeling it or not, we are.  We can’t not teach it.

So this job of educating children’s consciences is big.  Bigger than most people know or want to know.

I believe there are three pieces to this educational process.  There’s What, Why and How.  In the form of three Questions, really.  What is right?  Why is it right?  And How do I act because of that?

How you ask and answer these three questions requires finesse.  Don’t try to explain the philosophical and theological reasons for obedience to a 3 year old.  They won’t get it.  Even a very intuitive kid probably won’t get that until they get out of the concrete stage and develop some ability to think abstractly.  Trying to explain the Why to a child in the concrete stage is, well, as a friend once told me, like trying to teach a pig to sing the National Anthem.  If the pig ever learns it, which it won’t, when it sings it, it will be just awful.  So don’t waste your time and energy.

For a kid in the concrete stage, “Because I said so,” is most often the best answer.  Even when they tell you it’s not a good enough one.  Sometimes, “Because that’s what Jesus told us,” is the right answer.  But be careful not to make Jesus the scapegoat for what your preferences are.  In other words, if Jesus didn’t say it, don’t say He did.

Kids can get the What and the How in the concrete stage, though, and that’s where you should focus your energy and effort when they’re young.

Most developmental psychologist believe a child doesn’t move out of the concrete stage of thinking until about age 12.  By the time a kid is ready to go to middle school, they’re usually ready to being wading in the shallow end of the abstract thinking pool.  That’s when you begin engaging with them about the deeper philosophical and theological aspects of the Why.  Be advised, though, that you’d better be ready to reason and think your way through this, because as kids move more deeply into the abstract stage, they’ll be able to tie you in knots if you’re not on your toes.

And this brings me to the last thing I’ll say about a topic that there are entire books about: don’t try to educate your kids’ consciences before you educate your own.  Look into the mirror of God’s design, the Bible, and into your own life and see the gaps that are there.  You don’t have to be perfect, thank God.  None of us can.  But to be unaware, or worse yet, to not care that you’re unaware of your gaps is just plane wrong.  Partner with God and His grace, and shape your conscience according to His design.  Then don’t grow weary in the often difficult work of educating your kids’ consciences.

I’ve Been Away

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but my wife, Debbie, and I are part of a wonderful organization, Open Door Libraries, with libraries in 4 strategic locations in Central & Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.  Our role is to provide care to the staff at these 4 libraries.  We focus on helping them stay emotionally, spiritually and physically healthy and fit.  It’s in our sweet spot.  After 45 years of ministry life, both Debbie and I have a passion to bring life in any way we can to people in ministry, and specifically to these men and women who are devoting their lives to building relationships and providing resources in places that have been dramatically under-resourced for decades.  It’s a wonderful ministry that is changing lives, and we’re honored to be part of it.  If you’d like to know more about it, click on this website:

We generally get to each of these four libraries 3 times a year to give care.  The trip takes about 4 weeks because we spend about a week in each location.  And when we’re out on these trips, I don’t always have time to stay current with my HomeworK blog.  This was true on this most recent trip.  We were gone from June 3 through July 3.

When we get back, we’re recovering from crossing 8 time zones and the jet lag that comes with that.  It usually takes about a day per time zone.  If we were younger, we could maybe do it more quickly.  We’ll never know…  So there’s a little more than a week when we get back that’s just a wash, no matter how smart I try to structure the re-entry.

This time, our return and re-entry is more complicated than before.  On July 26, we’ll be loading a Penske truck (with the help of wonderful friends here in Iowa), and moving to Edmond, OK, where I will begin working with a private Christian counseling practice, New Path 12:2 (  I’m looking forward with anticipation to developing a Pastoral Counseling practice with New Path 12:2.  It’s a challenging next chapter for Debbie and me, but it seems like God has been drawing me into it.  We’ll be able to continue our commitment and work with Open Door Libraries in this new position, so although many aspects of our lives will change, that will not.

For the last two weeks, we’ve been purging (and wondering why in the world we kept so much useless and out-dated junk…) and packing boxes so we’ll be ready to load the truck when the fast-approaching day arrives.

Actually, it’s been a lot more of Debbie doing this than me.  I’m finding it hard to adult.  I realize that there is a mountain of details to nail down, and work that has to be done before I go get the truck.  I know that putting off until tomorrow what I should be doing today will come back to bite me on the behind.  I know these things, but I still find it really hard to adult my way though them.  Even if you’re not moving, I think you know what I’m talking a bout.

There are hard things in life.  It’s been this way ever since Eve and Adam took the forbidden fruit.  This will not change.  Technology will change the look and feel of things, but it won’t change the fact that life is hard.  To date, nobody’s been able to come up with an app to change this.  I do not believe AI (artificial intelligence) will do this, either.  Moving will always be hard.  Even if you pay somebody else to do it for you.  There are apps that claim to make it easy, but all they can do is make it easier.  Not easy.  For me, anyway.  And we’re moving ourselves, with the help of friends and family.  So.

Thank you for permitting me to have a cathartic moment here.  Confession is good for the soul.  Unfortunately, confession quickly turns to whining, an activity I’ve become quite good at.

If you’re facing a difficult challenge (and I’m guessing most of us are), I have no wonderful advice.  I have no jewels of deep wisdom that will make it easy.  I don’t think I even have anything that will make it very much easier.  Sorry.

But there is a line from My Utmost For His Highest that helps me, so I’ll pass it on.   One simple sentence.  “Trust God and do what’s next.”

Easy for me to write.  Hard for me to pull off.  And very often hard for me to pull off with a song in my heart (unless it’s the Eagles’ Get Over It).  But this is the advice I’m telling myself over and over and over.  Just thought you might be in a tight enough spot you’d want to advise yourself this way, too.


A young friend who is going to a Bible college shared an interesting story with me that I think is worth retelling.

In one of her classes, the professor announced at the beginning of the first class session that they would be observing the greatest theological construct as the motive in his class.  Even in the grading.  “Everyone has an A,” he announced.  “Out of gratitude for this and love for me because I have set this as the structure, there’s only one reason to do the work I assign in this class, and really only one reason for me to give you an A.  It’s love.”

Dozens of times through the semester he would ask, “Do you love me?”  He gave assignments and would ask, “Do you love me?”  Love was the motivation – the only legitimate motivation – for doing the work associated with the assignment.  All the reading, all the writing, all the showing up for class was to be motivated by love.  Every student already had been given an “A.”  Earning grade, then, didn’t need to motivate the work.  That wasn’t needed.  The outcome was already set.

Many young people who go to Bible college are performance-oriented.  Some are performance-driven, but don’t see this in themselves.  And, frankly, many Bible colleges are built (in some cases, unintentionally) to promote this.  The message many young students have picked up from their upbringing and church experience is, “Try harder.  Work harder.  God will love you more if you do.”  It’s a very broken message, but one that lots of us heard.  In Bible college, sometimes making good grades and by this proving that you’re a serious student can be equated with being serious about your faith and devotion to Christ.

Let me be clear that this is not the case with every Bible college student or Bible college.  It happens, though.  And sometimes people go to Bible college because they want to be really serious about God, and going there proves how serious they about this.

It turns out my young friend was one of these people, but didn’t know it.  Her moment of self-discovery came when it was time for the final exam in this class.  The night before, she had dutifully spent 3 hours studying and pouring over her class notes to prepare for the exam.  When she sat down in her classroom the next morning, she was ready to speed through the final and make a stunningly good grade.

The professor passed out the exam, face-down.  “Please don’t turn your papers over until I tell you to,” he instructed.  This is nothing too out of the ordinary in the world of test-taking.  Nobody thought much about it.

“Now, turn your exams over,” he said.  The papers rippled.  And then there was a nearly unison gasp.  Every answer to every question on the examination was answered.

“Now wait just a minute!” my friend thought.  “I burned up three hours of my life studying this last night!  I said no to a ton of more fun things so I could sit at my desk and do all this studying!  I did all the homework all semester long.  I took notes – lots of notes! – and paid attention in class.  How dare you fill in the blanks!”  She actually went through the exam marking all the answers.  There was just something in her that just couldn’t accept that she didn’t have to take the test.

And then it hit her.  It was the most profound lesson from the entire class, and maybe the most profound one of her life.  She would get an A that she didn’t work for.  She had been diligent to do all the work in the class, but if she hadn’t have, she would still have been given an A.  That did not compute.  Because the rest of her life had taught her that she had to perform to be acceptable.  And, boy, did she want to be acceptable.  She had learned that the best insurance for being accepted was to over-perform.  And so she did in every area she could.

But this class (a required one) had broken with her long-ingrained paradigm for how life worked.  And when it did that, it broke her.  “It ruined me,” she told me.  She left the class and made a bee-line for the farthest stall in the bathroom and cried for 25 minutes.  Cleansing tears.  Tears of brokenness.

I wonder if God would have said to her in the bathroom, “You’re good with me, girl.  I’ve wanted you to find this out since before you were born.  This is why I arranged for you to be in this class this semester.”  Then He would have drawn her into the strongest of embraces and showered her with kisses.  Pardon me for anthropomorphizing God.

To bend C.S. Lewis’ words in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe a little, this is the “deep magic.”  The power and work of God’s grace is mysterious.  It makes so little sense.  It goes against the grain of almost everything most of us have been taught and have experienced in our lives.  It seems too good to be true.  But it is true.

What if your family ran on grace instead of performance?  What if everybody in your family knew that they’ve already got an A?  What if everybody knew that they were accepted and acceptable?

Are you kidding?!  How will I get anybody to do stuff around here?!  If I didn’t crack the whip, nobody’d do anything around here.

OK, I get that.  I’m not talking about raising slugs and sloths – irresponsible and inconsiderate little tyrants.  I’m talking about teaching our kids (and maybe our spouses…) to do things because of love.  Duty doesn’t go away.  It gets re-framed in grace.

Books have been written about this.  There’s obviously a LOT more that could be written or said about how families can live in grace.  All I want to do with this little blog is to tickle your brain to begin thinking about what you could do to re-frame your family life around grace instead of performance.  What that looks like, exactly, is different from family to family, because every family is different.  The principle remains firm, though: grace is the way and love is the motive.  What you do with that principle has to be fluid.  So don’t get locked down trying to do all the right things so that you’ll measure up and be a grace family.  That will backfire on you, and you’ll get pretty much the opposite of what you want.  If you don’t treat yourself with grace you’ll never be able to treat your family with grace.  This re-framing thing will become another (even more toxic) way to try to perform so God and everybody else will like you.  That won’t work.

You’ve already got an A.  Live out of that, not in order to get it.