TLP 257: How to Handle Failure
How do you help your kids when they fail? Are all failures created equally? Join AMBrewster as he helps Christian parents determine the cause of the failure and help their children accordingly.
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Listen to the following episodes on Apple Podcasts by clicking the titles.
“The Parent’s Five Jobs” series (starts in episode 184)
“Teach Your Children to Learn” series (starts in episode 207)
“Merest Christianity” series (starts in episode 95)
“How to Handle ‘I don't know’” (episode 155)
“Why ‘Why’ Is More Important Than ‘What’ : asking the right questions to reveal the wrong heart” (episode 144)
“Are There Failure Philosophies in Your Home?” (episode 61)
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Today we’re making a very important distinction. I pray you’ll listen to the end with ears ready to hear.
Sometimes when we don’t carefully define our terms and compare them to Scripture, we can come to very inappropriate conclusions.
I pray that today opens a window in our minds and allows the light and fresh air of God’s Word to clear some darkness on this subject.
But, before I do that, I want to Ray and Carolyn for making today’s episode possible. They were our first Patrons, so we all have them to thank for many of the parenting resources we’ve put out over the past three years.
Thank you and thank you again!
If you’d be interested in following Ray and Carolyn’s example and would like to learn more about what it means to become a Patron or how to sponsor a show, please click on the “5 Ways to Support TLP" link in the description of this episode.
Okay, so our kids are going to fail, and they’re going to fail in a wide array of areas . . . in fact, I’d go so far to say that they will likely fail in one way or another in the vast majority of endeavors they attempt. But how should we parents respond to their failure.
Well . . . that depends.
The world has its opinions on this subject as well. For example, when I was in high school, secular parenting models started engendering the ideas that would produce helicopter and lawnmower parents.
These are the parents that do everything they can to keep their little snowflakes from ever having to feel the heat of failure. These are the parents who do everything for their child so they never have to be uncomfortable.
Thankfully, even the secular approach has started to realize the dangers of that system. I think they’re looking around them at the world that’s been created by not keeping score and giving everyone a trophy and realizing that something went very wrong with their social experiment.
I’m not normally one to overgeneralize, but the millennial generation has definitely given parental theorists reason to pause.
However, today, if you Google “how to handle your children's failure,” you’ll find some decent advice . . . even from secular sources.
But, what’s interesting to note is that their advice is uniformly applied to all sorts of failure situations. Whether it’s a wonky field goal or a failed test or an uncomfortable situation that grew from disobedience, secularists have little recourse but to approach them all the same way.
But is this what God would have us do?
Please consider with me Mark 9:14-29 where we will see two key types of failure and how God Himself responded, “And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15 And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. 16 And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”
Let’s recap. Jesus has just been transfigured on the mountain top with Peter, James, and John. They have now come down from the mountain and found the other disciples in a heated debate.
Jesus asks what the source of the argument is and they tell him that His disciples were unable to cast out a demon from a boy.
The disciples failed to do what — apparently — they had been able to accomplish on previous occasions.
Now, what comes next must be carefully understood lest we misapply what’s happening here.
Let’s keep reading:
“19 And [Jesus] answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.”
Some people believe that Jesus’ response was pointed at the disciples and their failure to cast out the demon. But that could not be further from the truth, and we’ll discuss it in more detail soon.
But let’s continue in the passage first.
“20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 25 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. 28 And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
Now, before we go any farther, I want to remind you that free episode notes are available at TruthLoveParent.com on our blog, Taking Back the Family. There’s a link in the description.
So, the disciples failed, and though their failure was likely in an arena that your children will never experience . . . casting out stubborn demons . . . their failure fell into a category that we all share.
1. I’m going to call this a Physical Failure.
This category encompasses things that are done in the body. It can be a failure to make a bed properly. It can be working an algebra problem incorrectly. It can be failing to sink the ball or place at the swim meet or remember their lunch on the counter.
Failure is going to happen. We all fail, and we fail in various ways. Sometimes we don’t succeed because we try and fail. Sometimes we fail by forgetting to try in the first place.
Either way, it’s all the same. We have something that we need to do or say, and because we’re finite, we’re incapable of doing everything perfectly.
The disciples didn’t know how to cast out that particular kind of demon, and Jesus knew what they needed. They needed to learn.
In episode 184 we started “The Parent’s Five Jobs” series and we discussed how an Ambassador Parent is called to use God’s Word in order to be a Teaching Parent, an Interpreting Parent, a Counseling Parent, and a Training Parent.
And, due to the nature of the mission of Truth.Love.Parent., we focused on the spiritual element. But there is a very secular aspect to those jobs as well.
As an “ambassador” of your children’s future success you teach them their colors, help them out when they call orange “yellow,” help them see the differences, and keep them accountable moving forward — including helping them to see and appreciate the differences among goldenrod, flaxen, banana, and mustard.
And your children likely cycle through a secular version of the Circle of Learning we discussed in the “Teach Your Children to Learn” series. They learn the knowledge, understand the information, and seek to apply it in life by naming the shades of yellow correctly and avoiding most of them in their interior decorating. :-)
And I keep saying “secular” because God created us to work this way, so even an unsaved person can go through the stages of learning. The only difference is that their motivation for the Circle of Learning is not the fear of the Lord, and the foundation of the teaching and interpreting and counseling and training isn’t God.
But it all works the same way.
But let’s face it, we teach our kids to tie their shoes and ride a bike and make an egg and work calculus . . . and none of that is taught in the Bible.
Therefore, to treat what I’m calling the Physical Category of Failures as part of the Spiritual Category of Failures would be inappropriate. It doesn’t have to be a sin that my child tied his shoes incorrectly.
Now, things are going start seeming very black and white in a moment — very cut-and-dry. But that’s not the case. I do want to shine the searchlight of God’s Word in an attempt to clarify some very bad Failure Philosophies in our culture, but we also need to be prepared to accept the intrinsic difficulties associated with doing things God’s way.
Therefore, I want to wrap up our discussion of the Physical Category of Failures and move to the Spiritual Category of Failures, but then we need to finish off with being able to distinguish between the two.
Okay, so our children are going to fail. And when they do, we need to be there to help them. Sometimes that help involves teaching them a better way. Sometimes it’s helping them reinterpret the situation. Sometimes it will require more engagement as we walk alongside them and help them correct the issue, and sometimes it’s an all-out training process.
Regardless, this is what I want you grasp . . . we should never be mad at our kids for being finite. We should never be angry that they’re not physically able to be perfect.
Now, I admit these statements need some clarifying, but that will be point three.
2. Then there’s the Spiritual Category of Failures.
Let’s reconsider our original passage.
“And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them.”
Okay, so we have an argument.
“15 And immediately all the crowd, when they saw [Jesus], were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. 16 And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” 19 And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.”
Now, keep in mind that Jesus’ comments were not directed to the disciple’s Physical inability to cast out the demon. How do we know this?
Well, they bring the boy to Jesus and He asks the father about the details of his son’s possession. The father tells Jesus and says “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
This sounds like an acceptable enough of a request, but listen to how our Lord answers,“‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”
Jesus turns it on the father of the boy. Do you remember what Jesus said earlier? “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?”
The original argument going on when Jesus arrived had more to do with the crowd’s unbelief than it did the disciple’s inability.
Likely, due — in part — to the disciple’s failure, the people had begun to lose faith in Christ. By the way — if you’re losing faith in God because of His people, you don’t really know God the way you should. Yes, His people fail Physically and Spiritually, we always will, but your lack of faith is on you.
And that’s what Jesus is teaching us here. And — praise God! — the father learned his lesson. In verse 24 we read “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
Jesus handled the Spiritual failure of unbelief far differently than He did the Physical failure of not being able to cast out a demon.
Honestly, I think there may be many reasons, but I only want to focus on one.
Physical failures are generally accidents due to a lack of knowledge or moving too quickly or just being human.
But Spiritual failures are always a choice.
Yes, it’s true that people are spiritually ignorant, but even Romans 1:20 tells us that those who haven’t seen a Bible or heard the gospel are still responsible for their Spiritual choice to reject God’s existence and claim to their lives. “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
And this is where things get tricky.
In our society we have those who say that every problem is a physiological problem. There is no spirit, there is no soul, all issues are biological issues. And they try to treat every problem with medicines and therapies designed to modify behavior.
And there are also those on the other extreme who view every problem as a sin problem. There are cults that believe if a person gets sick, it’s because of their sin. Even Jesus Himself made it clear that physical ailments exist — not because a person has sinned — but that God may be glorified in the ailment.
So, we parents need to know how to respond and help our children respond to their failures. But, in order to do that correctly, we need to not only know how to respond to Physical Failures versus Spiritual Failures — that part is easy — we need to know how to tell the difference.
And that is hard.
That’s why its such a huge temptation for us to compartmentalize everything in such a way that it doesn’t require us to do the hard work to figure out why my child did what he did.
So, 3. let’s role play a little and look at a couple easier examples.
Let’s say you ask your child to clean their room. They do a good job with nearly everything, but your keen eye spots some dust on top of the bookshelf or a lone sock under the bed.
There are a couple things you need to consider. Did you ever explain to them that dusting the top shelf was an expectation that fell under the “clean your room” edict? Did you ever teach them how? Is it a new expectation that they haven’t yet built the habit and muscle memory to be expected to get it right every time? Is it possible they believed the they only needed to dust when you asked for a “deep clean” or a “spring clean”? What if they simply forgot?
Let’s just say the answers to those questions reveal that it was not a conscious decision to disobey, but merely a failure to be perfect or to know what they don’t know.
In those situations, it’s completely appropriate to teach your child what to do. Or perhaps you need to reinterpret what you mean when you say “clean your room.” And then you can help them correct the issue and continue doing it the right way in the future.
But what if the answers to the above questions reveal that your child was repeatedly told they needed to dust the top shelf when they clean? What if they knew exactly how? What if they didn’t simply forget?
Well, then now we have a failure to make a Christ-honoring spiritual decision.
But, I’m sure you see the dilemma. How do you know?
Well, with our remaining time, I want to point you to a few additional resources, share some new insights, and put a finishing touch on this discussion.
The first resource is our “Merest Christianity” series. That series seeks to answer the question, “Why do my kids do what they do?” It’s super valuable, and I would argue that it addresses the whole foundation of the Christian life. That series will help you learn to determine why your kids are doing what they’re doing and how you can help them change.
The next resource is a standalone episode called “How to Handle ‘I don't know.’” It’s convenient for our kids to say, “I don’t know” just as much as it is for them to say, “I forgot.” But do they really not know? Did they really forget?
We’re not God, so it’s hard to be 100% certain, but that particular episode can give you some helpful advice that you can apply to kids who claim to not have known something or to have forgotten something.
And we have a ton of other episodes about how to know your kids, how to Speed Parent, and how to get to the bottom of a potential lie. This whole podcast exists to equip you to do what we’re talking about today.
Remember, this is going to take time. It’s going to require us to know God’s Word, know our kids, and be able to wisely apply the Scriptures to the situation.
1. Let me say that there is no guaranteed 100% success rating for determining if your child’s failure was Physical or Spiritual. God knows everything, but man only looks on the outward appearance, and sometimes God doesn’t want us to know everything.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t try, but it does put us at ease when we may be worried that our kids are still hard to figure out.
2. When trying to determine the root of your child’s failure, start with you. Did you really equip them with everything they needed to be successful?
A good example of this is something we’ve all experienced. You tell your kid to complete a task, and they miss a part of it. But then you remember that you failed to remember to tell them about that important third step.
It’s the same on the Spiritual side. How’s your Parenting Bible? Have you really given your kid everything they need to know to overcome the temptations in their lives? Likely, you haven’t.
3. When trying to determine the root of your child’s failure, ask revealing questions.
Proverbs 20:5 reads, “The purpose in a man's heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.”
In episode 144 we discuss “Why ‘Why’ Is More Important Than ‘What’ : asking the right questions to reveal the wrong heart.” Hopefully that will be beneficial to you.
The point is, we need to not decide that we know exactly why they failed. I’ve heard parents jump to conclusions on both sides.
The side that groups everything under Physical Failures is prone to say, “He’s only a child.” “She’s in a phase.” “He didn’t take his medication today.” “That’s just how she is.”
But the other side of the fence can overstep their bounds as well when they make the proclamation that every misstep by the child is a deliberate sin.
We must do our best to determine if the failure was a result of a Physical inability or mistake or a Spiritual decision or faulty belief system.
4. When trying to determine the root of your child’s failure, look for biblical evidences of Failure Philosophies.
If you don’t know what a Failure Philosophy is, you can listen to episode 61, “Are There Failure Philosophies in Your Home?” By the way, if you used to click on the links in the description but stopped because you didn’t have iTunes or Apple Podcasts, you can start clicking on them. The links will take you to Apple Podcast if you’re using an Apple device, but the links will also take everyone else to a website where you can listen to the podcast.
Anyway, the Bible gives us a ton of lists that I like to call Sanctification Lists. They explain how born again believers should be living.
Well, when your child has done something that seems innocuous, but when questioned about their failure, they meltdown, get angry, or exhibit any number of un-Christlike responses, then you can know one of two things:
For example, a child may not place in their track meet because of a legitimate Physical limitation. But when you’re talking to you child about it in order to encourage them, they develop a bad attitude, become argumentative, experiencing undo sadness, etc . . . they may now be experiencing a Spiritual Failure that was precipitated by a Physical Failure.
And that leads to . . .
5. Many failures will be a subtle mix of both Physical and Spiritual Failures.
Because of this, you’re going to need to carefully know God’s Word so that you can apply His Truth to the Spiritual Failures without unnecessarily burdening your child with inaccurate Spiritual weights placed on Physical issues.
So, what is it? Does your child have ADHD or are they selfish and impatient?
Well, let me give you a couple pointers.
There are so many possibilities, but God promises to give us everything we need for life and godliness through His Word. You can never go wrong trusting Him.
6. You should accept Physical Failure, but you should never accept Spiritual Failure.
Let me explain.
So, at the time I recorded this, my daughter was 9. But, she’s a very capable young lady, and since we homeschool our kids, my daughter is in 9th grade. We’re using the 9th grade curriculum from Bob Jones University.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Algebra is challenging for anyone the first time they learn it, but Ivy is doing a fantastic job, especially considering her age.
Well, sometimes she does very poorly, and it’s my responsibility to figure out how to help her. Is this a Physical or Spiritual Failure? So, I do some detective work, and from time to time I’ll find that she missed some vital information from the book.
However, more often than not, when she’s not doing well, it has nothing to do with her aptitude, and everything to do with her attitude. She convinces herself that it’s too hard or that it’s can’t be done or that she’d rather be doing something else, and she’ll perform awfully.
And here’s how I know it’s a Spiritual Failure, when I try to help her . . . she argues for why her wrong choice was right . . . every . . . single . . . time.
I tell my kids this all of the time, I have no problem with you failing. I expect you to fail, and I want to help you through the failure and help you fail less in the future, but I will not accept it when you choose to argue for your failure.
We need to be humble enough to admit our failures and work to fix them. Pride causes us to get defensive and argumentative and nasty, and pride is always a Spiritual Failure.
My nine year old is not going to win in a foot race against a teenage boy, and I will have no problem when she loses. But, I will not simply accept a Spiritual Failure without addressing the issue biblically
I know we went longer today, and there is so much more that I wanted to say, so if you have any questions, please feel free to email us at Counselor@TruthLoveParent.com.
And join us next time as we discuss how to be a Proverbs 31 Parent.
My friends, your kids are going to fail, and God put you into their lives to help them through it. Just be sure you’re doing it the right way.
To that end, I’ll see you next time.
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