Letting Your Child Fail
by Kim Allen, Director of SHINE Children's Ministry
She sat across the desk from me and looked at me like I had three heads. The word incredulous comes to mind. “You MUST let him fail,” she said. I think my chin dropped. I almost cried right there in front of her, but I knew she was right.
One of our sons had conveniently avoided keyboard instruction over the years and made it to seventh grade with zero typing skills. She was his English teacher, and had assigned his first paper for the year. He had already missed a couple of homework assignments (that’s another story) and so I offered to “help” by typing his paper for him. He had great ideas; he could write; he just couldn’t type. What a great solution!
I have never forgotten that conversation. I think it was the first time someone had the gall (courage) to tell me the truth: unless I was willing to let my child fail at something, he would never have an opportunity to move the needle on the responsibility scale. This was a constant struggle. Good intentions layered with procrastination and great excuses amounted to mediocre grades for an otherwise really smart kid. When would I stop rescuing him and let him hit the hard pavement of reality?
I didn’t type the paper, partly because I knew he needed to do it himself but mostly because I was terrified of her. I watched in agony as I walked past him, seated in front of our old desktop, pecking away and boiling with anger and frustration. It was not easy, but it was the right choice. And I could relay countless other stories about our children--watching their disappointment over defeat, their frustration from failure, their heartbreak when friends were heartless.
These are things parents want to fix. But we can’t. We need to let our children experience their deep need in order to help them see a God who loves them more than they even realize. When we rescue our children from disappointment and failure, we deny them the opportunity to gradually grow into adults who can deal with the inevitable disappointment, failure and suffering in life. When their disappointment and fear and pain threatens to overtake them, part of our job as their parents is to point them to Christ, who has faced these foes at the cross and overcome them all.
We stand in agreement with the writer of Hebrews in chapter 4: Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Our failure and disappointment (self-inflicted or not) is a built-in opportunity, courtesy of this tired old world, to look to Jesus for what only He can give: security, peace, strength to face whatever it is, no matter our age. He can give us the willingness to face our own sin and repent. He can give us contentment and relief from envy. He can give us forgiveness so that we may forgive others. He can give us a change of heart to love the unloveable.
Only our deep need can show us these truths because unless we need Him, we’ll go on believing that we can fix it. Children face constant disappointment, which is a sure training ground for what’s ahead. At some point, we will all face something we can’t fix: a medical diagnosis, a lonely heart, a job loss, the list goes on. As parents, we need to guide our children toward a dependence on Christ and His mercy and grace that will never fail them, no matter how many times they fail. This one reality is our supreme comfort when everything else can’t be fixed.
The Breadbox is our Children's Ministry email. This monthly publication arrives chock-full information about SHINE, but also tips and resources on how you can disciple your small people.