I own a four wheel drive automobile.
I live in a small Georgia town that has a prominent water tower.
I can’t play an instrument or sing.
By my estimation, that qualifies me to have a hit song on a modern country radio station. Be sure to keep an eye out for me the next time the fair comes to your town. I’ll be singing my hit, Me and Linda Lou Having a Ball Under the Water Tower (Linda Lou is My Truck’s Name). Catchy, huh?
Success is king in our culture. That’s why we have so many famous singers who, well, can’t sing. It’s why every major athletic accomplishment is met with skepticism from a fan base that’s heard one too many stories about performance enhancing drugs. And it’s why parents spend thousands of dollars and even more hours so that their kids can learn from the best in whatever particular field it is that they want them to succeed in.
For many parents, success is the destination. Character is the journey. And they want that journey to be as short as possible.
My son took a test on Monday. It was over a book that he wanted to read. The book is way above his reading level but he showed an interest in it. When he started to read it, my wife and I encouraged him and quizzed him along the way. He seemed to grasp all that was happening in the story.
And then came the time to take the test.
He got a 20. That’s a 20 out of 100. The less politically correct way to say that is that he failed. He got an F. In bold, red ink.
It really tore him up.
But I couldn’t have been more proud.
My son tried something. Something hard. And he failed. Hard.
If we’re willing to do the work of parenting, instead of passing the job off to a coach, teacher or pastor, we will see that moments like these provide opportunities to shape our kids into men and women of character.
Today, trophies aren’t earned. They’re given. Just sign up for the team, try to look busy for the duration of the season and get your trophy when it’s all over.
Integrity doesn’t work that way. It can never be given. It can only be earned. And quite often the payment comes in the form of failure. Crushed expectations, bruised egos and humbled spirits are the mounds of clay from which character and integrity are molded.
So maybe we’re missing something in the mad dash to see our kids succeed. Maybe this pursuit of success is driven by our fear of seeing our kids fail like we did. And, as is usually the case, our fearful reaction causes much more harm than good. Paul David Tripp calls failure a needed pathway to the destination of character. If he’s right, and I think that he is, then our pursuit of success is really just a part of an elaborate Ponzi scheme where we give more and more in hopes of a big return. But like today’s modern country singer, our kids are left with a few of the side effects of success but none of the substance.
The pursuit of success tells us to make our kids do hard things so that they can be the best.
The pursuit of character tells us to make our kids do hard things so that they can fail.
When success is the goal, failure is the enemy.
When character is the goal, failure is an opportunity.
My son knows that he failed. But he also knows that he is loved by two parents who are very proud of him. We’re not proud because of some grade. Grades are just a small part of the journey. Sort of like trophies. We’re proud because with each failure and the determination to try again, we’re seeing the destination get closer and closer.
Character is the destination.