A safe place to fail

A safe place to fail

A safe place to fail

Other titles for this post could have been:

“Grace is an acquired taste.  Like fine wine.”

“Dressing up every day as a super-hero can be dangerous to your health.”

or “Baseball is God’s favorite sport; it’s the one where you can fail about 70% of the time and still get voted into the Hall of Fame.”

If you’re in a hurry – here’s the summary:  If children are given a safe place to fail, they’ll grow up to be adults.  If children aren’t given a safe place to fail, they’ll grow up to be adolescents.  

This blogpost is the fourth in a series on the history of adolescence and the hope we have of eradicating it.

I didn’t grow up with an appreciation for the taste of grace.  My dad was a Southern Baptist preacher.  Enough said.

We sang “Amazing Grace” – we even claimed it to be our favorite hymn.  All the while I wondered why we had to hide my mom’s mental illness – among other things.

The message at church was most often: “get everything right” – and those who didn’t…well, I just remember not wanting to be one of “those.”

School always told me to “get everything right” – and those who didn’t…well, I just remember not wanting to be one of “those,” either.

My best option for getting dressed in the morning always included my favorite mask – the one that said, “Good Enough.”

I wore it for obvious reasons:

  • I was a preacher’s kid,
  • anything “less than” was like lighting the fuse of dynamite my mom seemed to be holding most of the time,
  • and I enjoyed the attention my teacher’s gave me when I got all the words right on my spelling test and colored inside all the lines.

The “Good Enough” mask served me well if you consider I was an honor graduate in high school, and I headed to Baylor as a freshman with almost a full combination of scholarships.

The “Good Enough” mask was a primary reason for the fast approaching season of intense and painful struggle, too – that would last almost three decades.

You see, I never learned it was ok that everything wasn’t ok.

I didn’t experience a safe place to struggle; struggle was something I had learned to hide.

The most dangerous effect of dressing up as “Good Enough” every day was that, at the stage of life that offered the most opportunities – and the most obstacles – I had no relationships with the real me…the one who was smart and capable – and who also struggled like everyone else did.

I had never learned to share my needs; I didn’t even know if was ok to have any.  I had never learned it was ok to ask for help.

When anyone loved me – my mask got all the love.

Any love or attention I received was because I was performing in the way others required of me. 

Read that last sentence again – it’s part of a recipe for disaster.

This recipe has another potentially fatal ingredient: a faulty definition for “sin.”

For a long time, I thought “sin” was the wrong answer on the test, or under age drinking, or pornography, or wearing immodest clothing, or dancing.  (Remember – I grew up the daughter of a S. B. preacher!)

I didn’t know that “sin” is a force to be reckoned with, and that I could never “reckon with it” in my own strength.  Sin is a literal battle with the dark side.

Sin is the reason God said, “It’s not good for man to be alone.”  It’s the reason He made a blood sacrifice and invited Adam and Eve to give up their fig leaf masks.

Do you see the danger here?

I hid all the ways I wasn’t “Good Enough” – which meant I tried to do battle with sin all by myself.

There was no “Good News” for me in the gospel…not if I couldn’t get everything right after all Jesus had done for me.

The original “Good News” is that the gospel is the safest place to fail – just ask the adulteress woman, or the tax collector, or the woman at the well. Or me.

When the gospel doesn’t offer us a safe place to fail, Christian homes and schools produce adolescents instead of young adults.  Young persons start hiding – and wearing weird masks.

“No safe place to fail” is the recipe for adolescence.

“Self-reliance” is the recipe for adolescence.

“Hiding” with people who struggle with the same things I do is the recipe for adolescence.  Our current model of “middle school” is a petrie dish for cultivating adolescence.  Peer groups are not communities.

Adolescence is an American invention – it’s the dysfunction that happens when children “grow up” into adolescents, instead of young adults.

Adolescence is the season of life that results when we think we’re supposed to get everything right – so we develop relationships with fellow “pretenders” or fellow “rebels.”  

You see this picture represents my relationships as a young person; we’ll call this group “The Pretenders” –

I fought hard to hang with this “Good Enough” group; I didn’t know we were “Pretenders”.


And this picture represents the relationships I tried to avoid, but where I ran to at times – thinking I never really belonged in the previous picture.

We’ll call this groups, “The Rebels” or they might be the ones who’ve just decided, “Never Mind”-

Living life in one of these two circles kept me both immature and wounded – way past the age that said I was supposed to be an “adult.”

Adolescence is the dysfunction that happens when children, like me, live in environments when it’s important to get everything right, to get 100%, to keep a high GPA, and that unintentionally invites us to hide when we struggle.

I didn’t know shame was a force to be reckoned with, too – and that I couldn’t reckon with it in my own strength, either.

Children only grow up to be mature adults when they grow up in relationships like this:

God is the Perfect One; He’s the only “Good Enough.”

My weakness is made perfect in His strength – not my own.

My identity is changed because of His work – and my trust.

Understanding the original Good News, my relationships can now look like this:

  • I now have real LOVE to offer others; love is the process of meeting needs.  (trueface.org)
  • I have a new identity – that sings “Amazing Grace” with renewed hope.
  • I only have this love – and this new identity, because I let God love me first.  The real me.

And now the real me gets to grow up.  Love is the fuel of maturity.

There is great hope when we – as a people who want more than adolescence for our children – begin to give them a safe place to fail.

The best place to start is showing them in our own lives it’s ok to admit that everything’s not ok.  We get to model what it looks like to admit we’re losing the battle with the dark side when we try to fight it on our own.

We get to model what it sounds like to ask for help.

Our homes get to be wound hospitals.

Our dinner tables get to be battlegrounds – not where we fight against each other, but where we fight FOR each other – against the dark side.

I’m learning to ask for help.  I’m learning to give Doug – and others – permission to protect me in the arenas where I’ve habitually lost the battle against the enemy, trying to pretend – or showing up with my army of just me.

What if?

What if we recognized pornography as an invading enemy that requires an army to defend against it – instead of a shameful failure in the lives of our own children?  or of ourselves as parents?  What if our children felt safe asking for help in this battle?

What if we saw alcohol – and social media – as an illegitimate way to meet legitimate needs – and what if our children gave us permission to help them do battle against these forces?  instead of hiding their struggles?  or hiding themselves…rather than facing shame?

What if we created societies where our children grew up in multi-age (even multi-generational) relationships – that offered safe places to struggle – and get help from people wiser and more mature than their peers?

What if children learned to trust this wisdom?

“What if there was a place so safe that the worst of you could be known and you’d be loved more for the telling of it? (John Lynch)

What if this place was home?

I’m creating an online class “connecting…and reconnecting – at home.”  Our target launch date is Oct. 1, 2017.

The introductory course will have five videos, a participant book to download with more resources – and to take notes in and write down questions.  There will be a closed FaceBook group – for class members only.

I’ll be an active participant in the FaceBook discussion group.  We’ll wrestle together, struggle together, and celebrate to gather as we learn to connect and reconnect in relationships of trust.

This first offering of this course will be limited to 50 participants – and this “inaugural” class will receive a 50% discount for participating in this “first run” of the course.  (The full price of the course will be $99. – “freshman” will pay $49.)

If you’d like to join this group – or you’re just interested in learning more – follow this link to the contact page and include “connecting…and reconnecting – at home” in the comment section.  I’ll send you email updates – and you can learn more before you make a commitment.


  • Virginia

    Great article. I was the rebel the one that said, “it’s not worth it!”
    One of the problems I see is the “choice aspect that we all have. The choice to believe that it really is safe. That I really can live with this mask off!
    My mask was “I am tough.” I knew that I wasn’t good enough and I would be judged so I had the mask of, “I don’t care.”
    The trust issue is hard on both sides. It seems to me that the rebels have a little easier time than the “I’m good enough” in taking the masks off.
    Your group never wanted to be a part of my group. You knew we were judged and you
    tried hard not to end up like me. Trust is hard after so much judgment. I feel like I have a radar for judgment. I can feel the heat of judgment in people.
    That is when I want to put my mask on and reject them like they are rejecting me. Christ says love them! Love my actual neighbors. That is what I am going after. It is loving them where they are. Love wins!
    Am I imagining that one mask is easier than the other?

  • I love these conversations with you Virginia – still thinking these would be great with coffee until later in the day when it’s time to have a glass of wine! It’ll be fun to come ya’s way in our Airstream!
    Your thoughts remind me of a young student who was honest enough to admit she wore a “Not Good Enough” mask – and she admitted that her motive was “don’t even try to get close to me because if you do – it’ll hurt me if then you judge me.”
    I don’t honestly know if one mask is easier than another (to wear – or get rid of) – but I am trusting this “naked gospel” thing – at least some of the time! And I’m also remembering Doug’s advice, “Don’t walk naked in front of the bullies!”
    So there’s the tricky part for me – remembering that “love your neighbor” is something I CAN do now that Christ lives in me…and also learning that some people just want me to please them, instead of be really me – with my boundaries and limited capacities, and all.
    I think I mention this because – when I feel push back now that I actually have boundaries, I’m tempted to “give in” in my habit of trying to be “Good Enough” – this is where is it “identity-saving” to have others remind me of these “original good news” truths.
    And this – I love that you have a radar for judgement! I think I have a radar for passive-aggressive! 😉

    • Virginia

      That is interesting. A radar for passive-aggressive. Would you say it is a radar for all manipulation or just passive-aggression?
      I definitely fall into the trap of trying to make my family happy and my close friends. The Savior complex, I know too well!
      We would be so honored for you and Doug to visit us. We even have a spot for you to park. Coffee and wine, two of my favorite things!!
      Please come!