You're going to fail (sometimes).

Dear Liam,

In high school, I was the guy who every dad wanted his daughter to date. Yet much to my chagrin, having her father's blessing made me horribly unattractive during the season of teenage rebellion. My classmates instead voted to give me a much different superlative. "Most Likely to Succeed" declared my senior class yearbook.

It was a rather logical prophecy. I had perfect grades, and had already completed a year's worth of college coursework before even getting my high school diploma. I was notoriously pious (i.e. an ardent virgin, which come to think of it, probably had something to do with all that approval from fathers with daughters), so it looked like a divine being would be on my side. A decade of competitive swimming gave me a svelte physique, meaning I could probably escape the early death my father had suffered. I had been accepted into one of the nation's most prestigious universities. All signs pointed to success.

My life depended on it. In the paradigm I was living at the time, I believed I could outperform any suffering. As long as I maintained my level of excellence in matters of education, reputation, and religion, I could circumvent the kind of pain everyone else in history had experienced. It's as if I believed the only reason people had ever experienced suffering was because they weren't studious enough, righteous enough, or healthy enough. While such a statement sounds preposterous, I think I believed it at the very core of my being, albeit subconsciously, even if I never said the words aloud. I lived accordingly. I had all the trappings of success, but harbored an inner brokenness I wasn't able to shake.

Then my marriage to your mother failed. And not just a regular, oh-well-we-tried kind of failure, either. It was a huge spectacle of a failure, like an enormous zeppelin engulfed in flames, hurtling towards the earth. Alas, the great Mr. Darcy is human and flawed. The wonderful wizard of Oz is nothing but a shyster from Omaha. The failure devastated me, and I didn't know how to deal with it.

The suffering was further exacerbated by the old preposterous paradigm being applied to my life. Pundits, parents, and peers all said marriages only fail when one party isn't patient enough, supportive enough, or faithful enough. They deemed the one party was me. The same ridiculous notion I had used to judge others my whole life, the reasoning I used to justify why I'd be able to escape suffering when no one else could, was now being used to judge me, and it was excruciating. Therein lies the gift of failure.

My sorrow finally allowed me to see the beauty of these words of Scripture: "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things" (Romans 2:1). As I experienced the pain of judgement, the harm my own judgement had caused was illuminated in my heart. I had to repent, and I had amends to make. Perhaps the man living through homelessness wasn't just too lazy to get a job. Perhaps the person with AIDS wasn't just suffering the consequences of reckless behavior. Perhaps the pregnant teenager wasn't just dealing with hardship because she dated someone her dad didn't approve of. Perhaps there's more to the story. Perhaps I wasn't some omniscient judge who could explain why everyone's problems were their own damn fault. While my failure and its accompanying judgement were agonizing, they shattered the illusion I could be better than anyone else and gave me a compassionate heart, for which I am thankful.

I have no clue what failures and heartbreaks you will encounter in your lifetime, but I'm sure many of them will be devastating. Yet I won't repeat the lie and let you believe you'll be able to escape them. In this life, you will have pain. I'm looking forward to the fruit of your pain, however. I'm excited about how your failures will create in you a compassionate heart, a deep humility, and an appreciation for the gifts of other people.

Tonight, I heard "Divorce Separation Blues" by The Avett Brothers for the first time, and I wept. I found so much empathy in their lyrics, it transported me back to my grief from years ago. Sometimes revisiting our grief is good - reminding us of all the beauty coming from the ashes. In the song, Seth Avett sings: "I've got the tough education/ No celebration/ Bad communication/ Worse interpretation/ Love deprivation/ Pain allocation/ Soul devastation/ Cold desolation/ Life complication/ Resuscitation/ Divorce separation blues." While I can't protect you from failure, and I can't predict what yours will look like, either, I can promise to be there with you through it. Instead of admonishing you, I'll confess my own failures to you. I'll share stories of my own "tough education" and be ready to resuscitate you as you recover from the pain.

I love you, God loves you, and you've got what it takes.



Burying yourself in the sand!