A couple of weekends ago I spoke at a conference called Hutchmoot. Hutchmoot is a physical manifestation of the online community known as the Rabbit Room. Around 200 folks from homes scattered across North America left chores, bills, jobs, kids, and the isolated safety of cyberspace, and gathered at Church of the Redeemer in Nashville, Tennessee. It is very hard to describe what is so wonderful and valuable about Hutchmoot, and I know this because this first paragraph is taking forever to write. For the sake of forward movement, I’ll just say; it is a heavenly feast, and don’t even get me started about the food.
There were 4 speakers in my session, titled “Art and the Family” and I was glad to go first so I could relax and enjoy the insights that would pour forth from Sarah Clarkson, Sally Lloyd-Jones and S.D. Smith. I began with a story about a neighborhood gathering and my son Jonah, who, when he was 6 years old, left a circle of seated friends to go get a drink. When he returned, his seat had been taken by a 2 year old, and there was no room for him to sit. So my 6 year old son said, “What the hell! She took my seat!” This did not go over well with the mothers seated nearby.
Upon gentle inquisition by yours truly, I determined that he had picked up that exclamatory beauty earlier in the day from the Colonel in “The Iron Giant,” and as Sally pointed out later on, you could hardly blame my son for trying it out. It really is a cool sounding thing to say.
In this particular story, I am a parenting hero. Under the watchful eyes of my community, my son was treated with respect and understanding. He learned a small thing about language and a larger though subtle thing about his dad. Unfortunately, this is not always how I roll.
As I dwelt on the broad topic of Art and Family, it occurred to me that there are 4 ways that creating art is similar to parenting. I think of them as 4 essential ingredients that neither art nor parenting can succeed without. They are inspiration, effort, failure, and hope.
Maybe down the road I’ll write about all four of these things, but after the session, most of the questions I got from folks revolved around the idea of failure as an essential part of parenting, so I thought I’d expand a little on it here.
It’s easy to consider how failure is essential as an artist. In fact, failure in artistry should really go by another name, unless we can transform the way we perceive the word. Much has been written about how failure is a teacher like no other, but if you’re like me you forget that failure as a parent can also have a bright and shiny silver lining.
In the session at Hutchmoot I shared a few stories where “dad as parenting hero” is supplanted by “dad as braying jackass.” Just imagine some of your more regrettable parenting moments and know that I’m right there with you. But because of the gospel, even those worst moments can transform into opportunities for heroic grace.
Remember the bewitching Turkish Delights that helped hold fast Edmund’s treachery in Narnia? A sincere apology has an opposite and even greater kind of power. Receiving a true apology is like receiving a nourishing, transforming gift; a morsel of mercy that plumbs the depths of the human heart and can warm and heal cold and broken places. When we fail our kids, they learn about the cost of being human. When we apologize, they learn about grace.
Think of what you want your kids to know about life. The battle between good and evil has been fought and won, but remnants and strongholds of the old darkness still remain. We will encounter them, and sometimes we will join them in their blindness. Of course, light is better, and sight is better, and deep down your kids may know this already. But they need us to affirm this sacred knowledge, and one way we get to is through sincere and thoughtful apologies. If we never fail (or if we act like we don’t), we withhold the priceless gift of humility.
We all want to pass on our hard-won knowledge about life and give our children a chance to do a little better, so while it’s good to teach our kids how to throw a football or French braid or scramble eggs, it’s even better to teach them about failure, and what a sweet gift it can be. And since children do as we do, not as we say, the most effective way to teach this to our kids is by example.