I was listening to On Being with Krista Tippet. She was talking to Seth Godin, an entrepreneur, who’s written books and has a podcast called Akimbo. He is open about his failures and what he learned from them. In his conversation with Krista, Godin said that we have been trained from early on that we want to get the right answer. The younger we are the easier it is to fight against this trained behavior. He said if he asked a room full of 1st graders to brainstorm and make something new, they would find it much easier than a group of college students. Because the college students are afraid to be wrong.
Children have the incredible way of seeing the world. Just spend time with young people and it’s amazing. The creativity. The outside the box thinking. The exploring and imagining. The unending questioning of the world and how it works. They are not afraid to seem foolish because so much is new. It’s natural and inspiring and something so far removed from us as adults. It’s childish. Which has a sort of negative connotation. Like silly, immature, not something to be emulated once we’ve reached a certain age. But what if we somehow kept that childish way of being?
We learn that failure is a sign of weakness and ineptitude. We are not born with that understanding. Wise people have learned that failure is a way to learn and grow. To find out how the world works and to shift the way we do things in order to make a greater impact. But really taking that to heart is difficult. I struggle with that fear of failure all the time. And I know deep down that it keeps me from learning and reaching a fuller potential.
We approach our faith the same way we approach other things in our life. Somewhere early on in our development we learn what is expected of us. We get the message that we are not good enough unless…
We figure out the right way to behave. The right things to say. When to say them. We start feeling embarrassed when we don’t know something. And we don’t ask questions for fear of looking stupid. And often times we lose our connection to church because it seems like a bunch of things we can’t live up to. And a bunch of boxes that are constraining rather than freeing.
In this reading it sounds like the disciples are trying to position themselves in the seat of power. But arguments about who is the greatest illuminate the insecurities of the ones doing the arguing. When we are secure in ourselves and our place in the world we don’t need to pretend toward greatness. And when it comes to living out God’s purpose for us, none of us is great at it. We are just trying to figure it out.
But we still measure ourselves as the world does. We can’t help it. We are programmed this way by our parents, our schools, our society, the media. The barrage of messages that tell us what the right way to be is. What success in life means. Ultimately it comes down to how we value ourselves and others.
We are quick to judge who is better on every level. Intellectually. Socially. Financially. The only questions we never stop asking are the ones that question our own worth. Are we cool enough? Fashionable enough? competent enough? Productive enough? Lovable enough?
The disciples are as close to Jesus as anyone could be. And still they were clueless. This should either fill us with relief or concern. Relief because it means that we are not alone in questioning among ourselves and in our hearts what this faith stuff is all about. Concern because it leaves us with the reality that we are not going to be able to understand all of this.
The problem with the fear of being wrong or any fear really is that we lose focus on what God is doing. We can’t see it because we are so inwardly focused. So worried about failing and seeming foolish that we paralyze ourselves. We keep ourselves from moving forward. What if we were able instead to ask ourselves in every moment what God might be doing? The Bishop reminded us last week that when we are told that God is doing a new thing, the new thing could be good or bad. Easy or difficult. Uplifting or tearing down. In order to build up again. That’s the thing about God’s work in us and in the world. Sometimes we have to lose in order to gain. We have to see the depths of despair in order to understand the light.
When Jesus went to the cross and died, everyone, including the disciples thought he had failed. All the things he promised. All the things he taught them. All the things he said about what God was doing. If this is how it ended, then he must be wrong. He was foolish to tell us these things and we were foolish to believe.
But what happened after was what turned it all upside down. It’s what redeems even our greatest failures. It’s what makes the least the greatest. The resurrection of death to life. Darkness to light. Failure to triumph. So that our truest life is not dependent on our ability to understand and be right and successful. It is completely reliant on God’s valuing us above all else, no matter what the world or we think of ourselves.
This is the teaching that was so hard for the disciples to comprehend. It’s still hard for us. But if we can be in touch with that childish part of ourselves that is not afraid to live boldly in the world, we can get closer to the full trust in God to lift up the least.