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Why Failure is Acceptable: An argument against perfection

December 16, 2014
By Faith Acker

As I write this blog post, my desk is piled with books and papers and ungraded student work. My coffee mug huddles timidly (only because it is empty) in the shadow of an enormous stack of papers I am supposed to grade and checklist of tasks I am supposed to complete (including this blog post).

I do not feel either efficient or productive.

When I originally drafted this post, it told a story about the importance of asking questions, and of resting in uncertainty. Cleverly linking this to my previous post, I pointed out that the questions The Odyssey raises allow us to appreciate the limits of our knowledge, defined by the all-important phrase “I don’t know.”

Since that draft, I have noticed that my own pride is not focused on right answers, but on efficiency and timeliness. For my students, “I don’t know” is often a mark of failure; for me, “I can’t do that” is the downfall of my pride.

It is easy, particularly in school, to become entranced by the idea of perfection. My students desire the all-elusive “A+,” and I selfishly long both to see them succeed and to seem efficient and productive in the process. Each week, my students strive for high grades and correct answers (and I applaud them for this), while I struggle to return tests and papers and quizzes in a timely manner. We focus on these goals, but they are ultimately irrelevant.

Far more important than my students’ grades are their questions and, even, their failures. I long to see them rest in the security of God’s omniscience when their own strength fails them. Similarly, in my own life, it is far more important that I learn to be humble and to rest on God’s strength than that I complete all my required tasks by the deadlines. (Did I mention that this blog post is late?)

Much as Christians want to understand God and His world, we are limited by our frailty. When I have failed to check off all the items on my list of daily tasks, I fail. I hate this, but when the day ends and I leave my teetering tower of uncompleted work, I go home not as a failed teacher, but as a sinner loved by God. When my students forget the facts they have learned, or (more typically) don’t pause to read the directions, they can relax in the comfort that God knows all things (and created the ultimate directions). Even as we admit our ignorance and feebleness, our

God reigns supreme.

As midterms loom, my own weaknesses become more and more evident, and my students become more and more panicked. This year, I hope to rejoice in my failure instead of wallowing in frustration, because it is—as all things are—an opportunity to see God work in me.