Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Failure

I grew up being good.
I mean, I was good at things.
I was smart. I did well in school. I won academic awards.
I was musical. I played violin and I did well. I would get the highest ratings in competitions.

I even tried art, and won first place with a water color painting in a district wide art show.

I was good at soccer too. Without even knowing what I was doing, I placed very high in a city wide individual soccer skills competition and would score goals and more goals for my teams in my younger years.

But I also remember playing basketball:

First with my dad and brother growing up. And later in Jr. high and high school. And I was a miserable failure. I mean, I lost, continually for years. I didn't start for the teams I played on (or if I did start it was for the C team or Jr. varsity).
In my final years of high school I "graduated" into being the defensive stopper. What that meant was that I couldn't handle (dribble and pass) the ball well enough to be the point guard, or shoot the ball well enough to be the "shooting" guard. And my genetics were short enough that I wasn't close to being a forward or center.
I was "good" enough to come into the game when our really good players were tired. My job was strictly to harass the other teams guards into making mistakes for five to ten minutes a game. It was also my job to pass the ball to someone else on the team as quickly as possible if it ever got into my hands. I was a "good" defender, which is like being "fast" for a catcher in baseball - you're still slow.

I liked basketball I really wanted to be good. I would practice hours on end of shooting and dribbling. But basketball wasn't like some of my other endeavours. I wasn't good. I practiced and sweated and worked, and was a failure.

And relating to people:

I wanted to be a charismatic and attractive person, someone that people wanted to be around. My brother was like that. He was fun and funny. Humorous and engaging. People crowded around him and just wanted to be near him. And I wasn't like that. I was shy and bashful. When I spoke I stumbled over my words. I was generally overweight, and as I got older I became the dreaded "nice guy." Nice guys are well, "nice." But they aren't attractive or magnetic to people. I was furniture in a room. Nice to have around and make use of when needed but replaceable and not terribly important overall. I (sort of) tried to be engaging and charismatic but I was a failure.

And then college:

I spent three years at a prestigious engineering school. I even made the Dean's List as a freshman. And then after three years I couldn't hack it. I dropped out. I had now even failed school. I was a failure in academics.

And there was a girl at that school I liked:

A fun and engaging and attractive girl. But when asked, sShe told her Bible study leader that she might possibly date my friend Rick, but never me. She went as far as to say that there were two things she would never do: be a missionary in Africa and date me. I was a failure in a relationship before I had even had one.

And I found myself working as a mechanical assembler for a company called Particle Measuring Systems (PMS.) I sat on a stool eight hours a day with drawers full of screws, assorted tools and put together contraptions that I had no idea how to use.

Forty hours a week I listened to co-workers talking about women, drinking escapades and combinations of the two.

At Christmas time that year I attended a Christian conference for college-age people. I don't remember the main speaker or a single primary point from the conference. During one afternoon there were short seminars on various subjects about missions to different countries, relationships, Christian leadership, apologetics and many others. I don't even remember what seminar that I was attending. I do recall that that particular seminar was going to be a video presentation. And while waiting for a late arriving T.V. /video cart to appear, the seminar "host"chose to read a quote by a former secretary of the U.N. (I think). That quote - greatly paraphrased and mangled I am sure - said something to this effect: "We have young Christian people aspiring to be missionaries to all corners of the globe, to be pastors, and leaders in Christian organizations. But these people need to know that we need Christians in all aspects of society: We need Christian professors and teachers, Christian professionals - engineers and doctors. We need God's salt in all parts of society - not just the obviously Christian ones."

And a light went off in my heart:

"I could do that."

God touched my life at that moment. I have no other way to decribe it. It was as if God's hand thumped my forehead.

"Wake up!"

And I realized that I had been doing most of what I had been doing in my life up to that point because I felt other people wanted me to do those things. Not that, in my case, there were people overtly manipulating my emotions and life to get me to go their way. But I had never really looked at my life and said, "God what do you want me to do?" Until I asked that question - and was open to His answer - my life just drifted along and I felt like a failure.

In the following months I re-enrolled in college and eventually achieved an engineering degree. But I worked for that degree because of what had been revealed at that moment in my spirit. I could be a Christian and an engineer, and that was just as much of a calling as any person who has been drawn to the mission field in Africa or Asia or the Middle East.

I also ended up pursuing and marrying the girl who was never going to date me. (At this point we have six children and are wondering if God is ever going to send Africa our way.)

I have actually stepped out personally and have begun to engage people and not just hope that they want to be around me.

And I have begun to realize that the point between failure and success isn't if you fail at something, but it's in who you serve and why you choose to do what you do.

If God asks me to do something and I do it, and that thing "fails," it doesn't mean that I am a failure, it means that I was faithful. I did what I was asked to do.

If I don't ask God what He wants me to do next, then I am failing. I am failing to continue to walk with Him.

If I don't do what He asks me to do, then I have failed.

Proverbs 4:18 (NIV):
18 The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.

5 comments:

PoetLady said...

This is Maria (sister to Miriam, Anna, etc)

You mentioned you played Basketball and weren't that good. That's something we're kind of dealing with now. My son um, isn't very athletic so far and another boy told him yesterday that he "is the worst kid on the team" doing bowling at PE and that just upset my son so badly (he's 6 years old)

Any recommendations on what to say to my son? We told him that the only way you get better is to try and he has to forgive the boy who hurt his feelings etc etc.

But being good at sports is a pretty big deal to boys (it seems) so I am concerned on how to handle this. Obviously to work with him more? I mean, I don't want him to think only sports matter and if he doesn't improve, he's worthless but at the same time, how do I gently guide him towards possibly getting better at sports yet affirm I love him no matter how he does?

Poor kid, my husband and I both told him stories of how people made fun of us for lack of athletic ability when we were young. If ability or lack there of is inherited, no wonder he's having a hard time!

Any advice would be great!:)

Maria (one of the 7 L kids)

Rob said...

Maria,
The basic tenet I hold with sports and my children (and would apply to most other endeavors)is effort and obedience. Did you listen to your coach (teacher, authority) and did you do your best at what they are asking you to do - have you given your best effort? If my children do those two things I have told them (repeatedly) that I am happy.
Now, if they are concerned about what place they come in (as in swimming, running etc.) their score (bowling and others) or how "good" they are in a team sport, then I tell them there are things they can do to improve, and I would be happy to help them do those things that I can help with: extra running, work on shooting form (basketball) or work on other sports techniques. (I am no help on swimming technique.)
Extra work and good effort will make anyone better, sometimes remarkably better. The only reason I was on the varsity high school basketball team at all was because I practiced, a lot.
As far as how to handle spite from peers or losing those are character issues. Learning to lose with grace is all about self control. A person doesn't have to "like" losing, I certainly don't. But you do need to learn/be taught the self control of congratulating the person who won, being gracious if you won, giving your best effort even if you are losing, keeping your composure when you lose, and using the experience to help you work harder to maybe not lose the next time. As well as that your worth to God and us has nothing to do with how good or bad you are at anything.
Sports in and of themselves aren't of any "importance." But can provide a great amount of enjoyment and be an excellent training ground for learning many things that are of great importance.

Just some thoughts,

Rob

PoetLady said...

Thanks for your comments, it's helpful to get the perspective of someone who's been a parent longer. I really appreciate your answer.

Thanks again!

Maria C

Miriam Rebekah said...

Mr. Rob,
I never would have guessed that you were a shy person when you were younger. You are one of the most humorous and engaging people that I know.
I personally have much to thank you for. You've helped me come out in different areas such as volleyball and working in Anna's plays ("Speak out!!!"). =)
Thanks!

Rob said...

Miriam,
Thank you for your kind words and you are welcome. (Those words mean even more when they are coming from someone whom I knocked over diving for a frisbee playing Ultimate - which you still caught - and previously accomplishing the same feat in volleyball!)
One key to shyness and engaging people in anything is fear. If you are afraid of what people might think, or say, or are just in fear of the unkown then you don't Do anything (or you do it timidly.)
The more that fear is replaced by God's love, the more we a free to be involved.
The trivial example: If you are afraid of being hurt by the volleyball, or afraid you might hit it the wrong way, or afraid of what those around you might think then you will probably not attempt to hit the ball. If you don't step out and hit the ball, you will never learn how to do it with any effectiveness. And if you never learn how to do it with any effectiveness you will probably not enjoy the games and stop playing altogether.
The same holds true in all aspects of life.
I'll get off my soapbox now.
Rob Pace