“Find another way to keep fit,” said the podiatrist in uncharacteristically stern tones. Decades of walking had netted me two very unhappy feet. What to do? I needed time out in God’s nature and, never much good at sitting, had used the rhythm of my steps to focus my prayers.
I rummaged up warm memory from my youth: cycling home from the library with a basketful of books. Eureka! Calling in wifely and motherly chips 2016 Mother’s Day, I requested the gift of a bike. I loved her on sight: old-style frame, cream-colored paint, and stenciling that reminded me of ice cream parlors and The Music Man. I named her Cordelia.
Worry: would I remember how to balance after all these years? A surreptitious ride around the neighborhood allayed those fears: you really do never forget how to ride a bike! But an altogether different problem arose. The slopes that seemed gentle to my walking feet grew Everest-sized when I pedaled them. Breezes that mercifully cooled my walking skin buffeted my biking body with maniacal force. And, it turns out, you use different muscles bi-peding than you do bi-peddling. My quadriceps screamed, “What did we ever do to you?”
I finished the ride on willpower. I was clearly past it. Done for. Failure with a capital F.
But what of Cordelia? She was a gift of love and hope. I couldn’t give up on her. I painted my bike helmet like van Gogh’s Starry Night and, following the advice of the ages, got right back on the, um, bike.
Not great. Not disastrous.
Today I can ride longer before my legs turn into overcooked noodles. I can manage inclines with a bit more panache. It’s not as easy as I’d like, but it’s worth the effort. Plus, I learned that failure, while harsh, has benefits. I learned
- Failure doesn’t kill us. Even though at the time our mortification might wish it did. In surviving failure, in a larger sense, we win.
- Failure defines our values. Sometimes we give something a go and failure tells us, in no uncertain terms, “Nope. Not for me.” Other times, when we face a challenge that’s hard, but somehow energizing (what I call God energy), failure spurs us on. We test unused muscles and set our determined chins.
- Failure fosters humor. We grow in self-acceptance when we can laugh at our humanness. Not in a derisive way, but in a way that says: “Yep. That’s me. Warts and all. Gotta love me.”
- Failure cultivates community. We all fail. Sharing that honestly helps us discover—and share—the refreshing truth that failure doesn’t define us.
Sure, it’s frustrating to re-tackle with determination (and Ben Gay) a skill I once mastered with nary a thought. But it’s frustration with benefits. I feel a kind of wondering joy as I wheel Cordelia out of the garage and slap on my helmet. There are adventures out there just waiting for me. I intend to pedal out and find them.