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one more pass at FIVE THINGS

Your kids need more than five things in their spiritual, mental, physical and emotional toolkit before they leave home.  The number’s probably more like 500.  But that’s way too many things for a blog to cover.  Anyway, way too many for a blog I write.  Five, though, that’s a number even a guy like me can deal with.  So we’re going for five.

I gave you the top three of my List of Five Things last time I posted (Five Things).  Your kids need to have their own walk with God, and know how to nurture it.  (Spoiler alert: I’m going to expand on that a little here…)  They need to know how to fail successfully.  And they need to be able to steward their own lives by doing the little things, like making their bed.

Before I crack open the last two on my list, I  want to go back to the first thing and expand on it a little – to have their own walk with God, and know how to nurture it.  I think there are a few crucial things involved in this.  First of all connecting with God.

Connecting with Him by reading the Bible (His Word) for meaning, and connecting with Him through prayer.  I say connecting with Him by reading the Bible for meaning because there a lots of people who read the Bible with little intention of understanding it well enough to actually do what it says to do and be how it says to be.  Then connecting with His people (the church), serving others out of gratitude for His kindness, and then sharing the good news of His grace in their circle of influence.

The first two of these things fall into the category of Quiet Time.  The other pieces of it need separate blogs, but I won’t do that now.  Just the Quiet Time piece.

What time of day a person does their Quiet Time isn’t as important as that they do it.  Although I’m way not a morning person, I’ve discovered that first thing in the morning is the best time for me to have my Quiet Time.  If I wait until later in the day, my time and attention get hijacked by other urgent things, and most of the time, I don’t get back to it at all.  The end of the day worked when I was young, but the older I get, the less of me there is at the end of the day.

I never taught any of our three daughters how to have a Quiet Time.  They never asked me to teach them.  But they all three developed this habit, starting in their Jr. High years.  I believe this happened because they saw their mom and me both having our Quiet Time every day.

At the time, living in a tiny cracker box house where there was really no private places except the bathroom didn’t seem like a blessing, but it was.  I had to do my QT (Quiet Time) out there in the open where they saw me doing it.  For me, it was in the beat-up Lazy Boy recliner in the living room.  For Debbie, it was at the kitchen table.

Neither of us made a production of it.  We just did it.  We didn’t start this habit when the girls were in Jr. High, though.  We started it when they were babies.

If your kids are older, don’t believe the lie that they won’t notice or be influenced by your example.  They will notice it, and even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time, they will be influenced by it.  Obviously, the younger your kids are when you model this kind of spiritual discipline in their presence, the stronger the influence it will have on them, but even if your kids aren’t little anymore, you can give them an example to follow.

So step one on this is DEVELOP YOUR OWN QUIET TIME HABIT.  The really good news is that there are hundreds of good tools to help you with this.  I love the YouVersion of the Bible.  It’s FREE!  Click this link to get connected with it: YouVersion.  Poke around and find the “Plans.”  You’ll find more helps than you have time to get into.  (LifeChurch is who we thank for this amazing resource.  They’ve created it and continue to improve it, making it absolutely free to anybody who wants it.)

So before another day passes, get started modeling this habit for your kids.

Number Four for me is that they know how to identify their emotions and own them appropriately.  This one comes to them, not from a book or a video (although there are some really good books and videos about it), but from you, again.  Your kids will handle their emotions in the ways they see you handling yours.  How does that make you feel?…

There are rare kids out there in the world who have learned how to identify their feelings better than their parents do.  These kids are exceedingly rare.  It would be unwise and unfair, really, to depend on the possibility that your kid may be in the .003% on this.  Educate them through your example.  Which means, you’re going to have to educate yourself to identify and own your emotions appropriately.  That’s a big job.  You’ll probably need help to get there.  I’ll write more about this at another time.  Just log it down on your list.

And finally, that they know who they really are.  This is closely related to number one on my list, to have their own walk with God, and know how to nurture it.  If you don’t have your own walk with God, you can’t know who you really are.  Your true identity is rooted in who God says you are, not who other people say you are.

I want to make sure you know that this is not about showering your darling with empty and meaningless praise.  This isn’t about handing out participation trophies.  You telling your kid that they can be anything they want to be is (sorry) a lie.  The truth is, they may never make the big leagues, or cure cancer, or live in the White House.  If they do, make sure they invite me over!  But the odds against these things happening are astronomical.

Who God says you are is the bottom line.  This is your true identity.  I’m not talking about the warm fuzzies I see on FaceBook about how you’re the greatest, and if you just believe, your life will be an amazing and wonderful site to behold.  Sometimes, no matter how deeply you believe, your life is going to look like a B-grade disaster movie.  The world is fallen.  Every ending isn’t happy.  I know, I’m jaded.  Sorry.  Not sorry.

You don’t get the needed data about your identity from FaceBook.  You get it from The Book.  The Bible.

I love to ask the question, “If you believed about yourself what God says He believes about you, how different would your life be?”  Unfortunately, most people don’t know enough about what God believes about them to have an intelligent answer for this.  They either rely on all kinds of flawed and inaccurate sources to know what He believes about them, or they make something up that feels comforting to them.

Here’s a good place to start: Who Does God Say I Am.  Almost none of the points here are in language kids will connect with, but it’s a very biblical resource.  Ask God to give you creative insight to translate these eternal concepts into language your kid(s) will understand.  Then be creative and intentional about how you engage your kid(s) with them.  Nobody wants you to succeed at this as much as God does!  So lean into it in partnership with Him.

Five Things

If you knew you could only give your kid FIVE THINGS – non-material things – before they leave the nest, what would they be?  What five life-skills, attitudes, patterns would you want them to take into the wide world awaiting them?

When our three girls were growing up, I was so busy making it up as I went along I didn’t think I could get a hand free to write a list.  (One of my favorite lines in a song comes from a Steven Curtis Chapman song: If I could get one hand free, I’d be pulling out my hair.  That’s what it felt like back then, even though it probably wasn’t as bad as it felt.)  Besides, nobody ever challenged me to make a list like this.  Anyway, I don’t remember it.  It’s possible I wasn’t paying good enough attention, so. 

It’s one of those things that, if I had a rewind button, I’d go back and do.  There’s no rewind button, though.  To harvest wise words from an unknown philosopher, at this point, “It is what it is.”  By God’s good grace, our three girls grew up and became more like their mom than me.  They’re all three making fabulous lives as adults, and they all three are my heroes.

I’ve already written about one of the things I’d put on my list of 5: Learning how to fail (One Essential Skill You’re Probably Not Teaching Your Kids).  In my opinion, this is an essential skill.  No matter how you define success, people who don’t know how to fail rarely figure out how to succeed.  And as you know, everybody will fail.  Often profoundly.  It’s a paradox, but undeniably true.

OK, after teaching your kids how to fail successfully, what are the other skills you’d want them to carry into their future?  Coming up with four more things for a good list won’t be easy.  If it is, you may not have identified the most important things.  You may only have gathered the lowest-hanging fruit.  But some low-hanging fruit is valid for this list, so don’t throw it out automatically.  At the very least, let the low-hanging fruit prime the pump for fruit that’s a little higher up in the tree (forgive my mixed metaphor), because higher up the tree is where the best fruit may be.

This may look like low-hanging fruit, but it’s actually a ways up the tree.  In 2014, retired Admiral William H. McRaven delivered the commencement address at the University of Texas, Austin.  The title of his address was, “Make Your Bed.”  If you Google “Make Your Bed,” you’ll find his speech in a variety of lengths and forms on YouTube.  It’s worth a listen.  His talk was so well-received that Admiral McRaven expanded it into a book.  It, too, is worth the short read.

The point of McRaven’s speech?  Doing little things, like making your bed every morning, contributes to the depth of your character.  A very strong case can be made that if you don’t learn how to take responsibility for the small things in your life, you won’t be able to own the big things.  When you take responsibility for small things, you put yourself in a position to deepen your character.  If you don’t learn to steward your own life, to take responsibility for yourself and your decisions, you simply can’t grow depth of character.  And depth of character is the gold standard in the real world.

I’d put “Make Your Bed” on my List of Five.  Um.  By the way, your kid probably won’t start making their bed while they’re at college unless they start making it while they’re home, before they head out for higher education.  Take it from a guy who managed to go half a semester without making his bed in his Junior year of college.  (Don’t judge me.  I hadn’t heard the speech yet.)

If you want your kid to make their bed, you’ve got to quit making it for them.  Granted, the Navy has leverage you probably don’t have in this effort.  As a parent, it’s hard to enforce bed-making without coming off as a dictator.  The Navy doesn’t give a rat’s furry behind if a sailor thinks they’re dictatorial.  The point is, though, if you make your kid’s bed, they won’t need to make it themselves.  So they won’t.  Teach them how to make their bed and then tell them making it every morning is their responsibility, not yours.  It will take 7 or 8 years, but they’ll eventually thank you for it.

As great as “Make Your Bed” is, I wouldn’t put it at the top of my list.  I wouldn’t even put learning to fail successfully at the tip top.  That place is reserved for something of timeless and ultimate value.  It may sound like a Sunday School Answer, but I’m sticking with it.  The star at the top of my FIVE THINGS list Christmas Tree is (a drum roll, please) knowing how to nurture their own faith walk, and then choosing to nurture it for themselves.  

More than 40 years ago I heard a profound remark that shaped a whole lot of my ministry life: God has no grandchildren.  Your relationship with God is undoubtedly shaped and influenced by your parents, but your actual walk with Him is by your choice, not by your parents’.  Everybody either chooses to say yes to Jesus or not to say yes to Him of their own will.  Your momma’s faith and prayers can draw you to Jesus, but actually coming to Jesus is your choice, and no one else’s.  God has children, but no grandchildren.

So if you’re a follower of Christ, you get this incredible honor of introducing your kids to Him and influencing them toward a life wrapped up in Him (St. Paul worded it this way: “hidden with Christ in God,” in Colossians 3:3).  You pray for this.  You model your faith in front of them.  You take them with you to church.  And to do service in the Name of Jesus.  You sometimes do this even though they’re not really jazzed by the prospect.  Sometimes you require them to do this.  You do these things because you want to expose them to an authentic relationship with Christ, one they will want to choose for themselves.

But you don’t get to do any of it for them.  The best you can do is to set the table.

I’m bumping my max word count, so I’ll press the pause button with this question: are you setting the table?  Take a couple of minutes and do some reflection.  Ask someone you know who knows you well enough to be able to have a sense of it what they think about this question, from their observation.  Your spouse, maybe.  Or someone you admire because of their maturity and their walk with the Lord.

CAUTION: do not ask someone who tends to be judgmental.  You’ll just set yourself up for unnecessary criticism and discouragement.  That won’t move you any further down the trail.  Ask someone who’s mature enough to tell you the truth in love.  Ask a mature grace-person.



I once read that the average person spends about 1/3 of their life waiting.  This isn’t hard for me to believe.  I’m the dad of 3 daughters and the husband of one wife.  At the risk of sounding sexist and cranky, I think I’ve spent a little more than 33% of my life waiting.  My wife and daughters will tell you we’re even, though, because they’ve spent an equal amount of their lives waiting for me.  They’re probably right.

I’m writing this from the comfort of an easy chair in our Berlin Open Door Library, Connections.  We’ve been here in Berlin for a week.  We come about three times a year as part of our member care role with ODL (Open Door Libraries).  We have never rented a vehicle, though.  There’s no good reason for us to.  Public transportation here is easy to access from nearly anywhere in the city, runs like you’d think a German operation would, and is far less expensive than renting a car and then having to fill it with gas at ∈1,60.9 per liter.  (There are 3.7 liters per gallon, and right now the exchange rate is .88 Euro to $1.  If you do the math, there’s no good outcome on this.)  Plus, riding the buses and Ubahn and Sbahn offer unique cultural experiences.

When you take public transit, though, you set yourself up for a lot of waiting.  Waiting for the bus to get to the stop.  Waiting through a dozen or so stops before you get to your destination.  Waiting to get back on the bus after you’re through with whatever you did, and then a dozen more stops on the way back.  We’re staying about 5 miles south of Connections.  By bus, it takes us about 35 minutes to get here.  We’ve had our quota of waiting this week.  Gratefully, we’ve been here in June, when waiting for the bus is much easier than it was when we were here in November, freezing in the early winter winds.

Those of you who know me know that I am not good at waiting.  I usually avoid it.  I’m that guy dodging in and out to get in a shorter line at the self-check center at Walmart.  I hate it when I get behind a person in a check-out line who waits until the cashier hands them the receipt to start digging in their purse or pockets to find their wallet.  Or the one who wants to get the cashier’s life story, and then tell them theirs on their way out.  Waiting vexes me.  Sorry.  I’d like to tell you I’m more mature, but I’m not.  Ask Debbie.

I’m a long way from how I hope one day to be with all this, but I’m better than I used to be.  Give me a gold star and a pat on the back.  And a sugar cookie if you’ve got one handy.

All this waiting has me thinking about the role of waiting in marriage and family life.  I can’t think of waiting without thinking of it’s shadow, impatience.  One of my regrets about my young-father-days is how impatient I was.  I think if you’d have asked my kids when they were young what they thought my motto was, they would have said, “Hurry up!”


I wrote about three of the most powerful forces in a kid’s life a while back.  If you missed it, you can check it out here: Three of the Most Powerful Forces In Life

There’s one emotional force that fuels all three of these powerful, primary emotional forces: SHAME.  That’s my topic today.

My theory is that everybody has experienced shame (unless they have some sort of psychological pathology).  If you are capable of experiencing guilt, you’re capable of experiencing shame.

Guilt and shame are related – almost joined at the hip.  There’s an important difference between guilt and shame, though.  Guilt is a feeling I have because of something I have done.  Shame is a feeling about who I am.  The distinction between them is huge.

The waters get a little cloudy here, though, because there are two kinds of guilt.  There’s real guilt – guilt I feel because I’ve done something wrong.  There’s also false guilt – when I feel guilty, even though I’ve not done anything wrong.  Both real guilt and false guilt are rooted in the conscience.  Your conscience tells you what’s right and what’s wrong.  But your conscience is educated by your upbringing and background.  For that reason, everybody’s conscience isn’t the same.  I’ve written about this before.  You may want to check it out: Conscience

False guilt and shame share a common characteristic.  They are both unbelievable powerful.  Both false guilt and shame motivate people to make significant bad decisions and to act in often destructive ways.

They’re alike in another way.  They can both be very subtle.  Lots of times, they’re hard to discern.  They exist beneath the surface, hidden from the view of our conscious mind.  It’s a weird dynamic, but it’s at work in virtually every human.  Weird and incredibly powerful.

Shame, since it’s a feeling not about a thing I have done (or perhaps a thought I have had), but a feeling about who I am, is insidious.  Here’s how the dictionary defines insidious: proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with harmful effects.  That’s shame.  You can make amends for or be forgiving for something you’ve done, but try as hard as you may to make amends and seek forgiveness for who you are, there’s no finding it.  The harder you try, in fact, the farther away it gets.  Hence, insidious.

A Texan PhD named Brene Brown has researched and written about shame, and is my favorite author on the subject.  She did a TED talk that went viral a few years ago, and that put her on the map.   Take 20 minutes and watch her TED talk here: Brene Brown

If you’re a reader, I recommend her books, The Gifts of Imperfection, and Daring Greatly.  If you’re not a reader, get them in audio form.  If you’re trying to deal with same in your own life, or you feel you’re dealing with it in a child’s or a spouse’s life, I think you’ll find some really good help in them. 

Millions of words have been written and published about shame.  It’s not a simple subject.  So I don’t have any illusions that I can do it justice in my blog, but there are a couple of things about shame that a parent needs to know, and then do something with.

First of all, shame is a contagious disease.  We catch it from carriers.  We catch it through the words people say to us, and although we’re susceptible to it all through our lives, we’re most susceptible to it in our early childhood.  Words we heard in our childhood can cripple us for our entire life.  And there’s a very strong chance the person who said those shaming words heard some form of them from someone in their childhood.

If that’s not bad enough, it may not be the actual words that were spoken that gave birth to your shame.  The power is in your interpretation of the words you thought you heard.  The meaning the speaker had in mind may not be the meaning you got when you heard them.  The intent of the speaker is way less powerful than the interpretation of the hearer.  The power is in what I thought you meant by what you said, not what you think you meant by it.

Secondly, nobody can “fix” your shame.  God can certainly heal it, but my experience is that He usually does this by taking people through a process of healing, not an instantaneous event of healing.  God wants to heal our shame.  He’s made provision for this through Jesus’ stripes and wounds.  I think He wants us to partner with Him through the process to find it, though.

One implication of this is that you can’t fix your child if they’re going through – or stuck in – shame.  You pray for them to find freedom from it, for God to free them from it.  You can’t make it happen for them, though.  In fact, this is another thing that the harder you try to do it, the farther away the desired result gets from you.  Nobody can do the work for you on your shame, and you can’t do the work for your kids, either.  My apologies for having no pixie dust to toss on this and make it all better.

So what are you supposed to do?  Well, you keep doing one thing you’re already doing.  You pray like crazy for them.  But counter-intuitively, you go to work on you instead of them.  You work on your own shame, in partnership with Christ and His power in you.  You look into the dark corners of your own life and story to see things that you might really want to not look at.  You’re looking for these things so you can deal with them.  You may need the help of a mature and wise person from outside your normal circle for this.  One of the same gender as you.  Or you may have the great blessing of people in your circle who can help you.  But you’re probably going to need help.  So pray for God to bring mature people to you, and then look for them.

And then go to work on this with Christ as your Partner and Helper.

As you do this, you will be modeling recovery from shame for your kids.  And that’s huge.  The way you model dealing with shame in your own life is incredibly important.  In fact, in most ways, you modeling this is far more powerful than any words you might want to say to them about it.

But it’s a messy process.  Sometimes deeply embarrassing.  Sometimes tearful.  Sometimes angry and verbal.  Usually it’s not a process you want out there for everybody to see (although I think it might make pretty compelling reality TV).  It doesn’t need to be out there, usually, in fact.  But we’re not talking about doing this in full view of your neighborhood, or your job, or your church, or your Facebook friends. We’re talking about the kids you either gave birth to or helped their birth process happen, and who you’re raising and living with.  We’re talking about your inner circle.

Probably the most important thing I can write about this is DON’T GIVE UP!  You have an enemy who wants you to give up, because he knows you’re more vulnerable to him and useful to his plans if you’re held hostage by shame.  He would much prefer you to be a carrier than to be recovered from it and learning hoe to live a healthy life.  St. Peter wrote that this enemy is roaming around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.  Satan is way serious about keep you locked up.  He’ll do all kinds of things to make you want to give up.  So don’t be taken by surprise by this.

But you also have a Defender and Advocate.  God, in the form of the Holy Spirit, is in you to give you every strength and tool you need to not give up.  He’s not out there somewhere, cheering you on.  He’s IN you, if you said yes to Jesus on His terms.  And He wants to see you healed.

I have to tell you this last thing, though.  God wants to see you healed, but He’s not really very interested in making you happy through the process.  So.  It might be painful.  But it will be worth it.

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.