My first horn teacher was named Dr. John Little. He was a vibrant professor who radiated love for music. Thinking of him reminds me of a great saying about teaching a friend of mine named Eric Booth coined: “80% of what you teach is who you are.”
Dr. Little was enamored with the horn and it was contagious. His teaching studio was filled with brightly colored tacky music paraphernalia including a poster of an upside-down French horn filled with scoops of ice-cream. Every time I walked down the stairs to the basement of Berea College’s music building for my lesson he was practicing, and every time I left he was practicing some more. He seemed to simply love to play.
One of his favorite mantras was, “Today we are going to fail.” I remember the first time he said that to us my dad (who sat in on my lessons) looked at him curiously. Weren’t we paying him to help me NOT fail?
He explained, “Each time we are together we are going to push you to do something that you’ve never achieved before. Whether it’s playing higher or lower than you’ve ever played or softer and louder than you think possible. Whatever it is, this is a safe space in which failure must take place in order for us to succeed.”
So with this in mind, he would push me weekly to play higher and higher and when I would fall off that top note as I squeezed it out with all my might he would applaud and smile and celebrate. Celebrate failing? That’s exactly what he did.
What a concept! Failure is necessary to success? Failure is a part of the process? Failure is to be expected, even anticipated?
In Jeremiah 8:4 the Lord says it this way:
“…..when you stumble and fall, you get back up, and if you take a wrong road, you turn around and go back.”
He didn’t say IF we stumble and fall, he said WHEN. So why is that such a foreign concept to us? There is nothing in the Bible that says that once we turn towards God we are recreated into infallible creatures. I think sometimes when we falter it makes us question everything, as if this salvation thing isn’t real because if it were we would simply and suddenly fail less.
Great hikers know that in order to scale the mountain there are times- sometimes long stretches of time- when one is traveling down rather than up as the trail winds it’s way through the passable terrain. As they scale downwards, it must feel like their target gets farther and farther out of reach, but that is not the case at all. These ups and downs are an absolutely necessary part of the journey to the summit.
Dr. Little intuitively knew that failure was inextricably linked to success and spent our lessons teaching me to GROW from my failures rather than allow them to be debilitating experiences that ground my confidence into dust.
So what’s the life lesson here? Let’s spend less time punishing ourselves, beating ourselves up, and belittling ourselves for life’s inevitable moments of failure. Instead let’s take a lesson from a great teacher who said, “Today we are GOING to fail.” Some days we’ll fail in small ways and other days in larger ways. The question is this: will we see these failures as opportunities to grow in ways that allow us to reach our dreams, both in life and in our walk with God?
2013 Copyright by Misty Tolle
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