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Faith Comment published in the Petersfield Post

25 November 2020: Sylvia Roberts, St Peter's Church, Petersfield

Learning to fail

What did they teach you at school? English, Maths and Science and a bunch of other subjects... but did they teach you how to fail? Did your family or Youth Leaders teach you how to cope with failure? If they did you were fortunate indeed.

At my school success was everything – both academic and athletic success. Failure was never dwelt upon other than as something to avoid. The beautifully lettered boards on the walls of the stairs giving the names of girls who had succeeded notably and the illustrious University colleges they had gone on to attend reminded us daily that success was everything to be wished for and aimed at... but what if you failed?

When a two year old doesn’t get what they want they tantrum or throw things and cry. When a five year old has to hear the word, “No!” they may sulk. When a seven year old’s football team loses they may go into a decline... but with the right support and guidance they gradually mature and grow out of those behaviours.

Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” was recently voted the nation’s favourite poem - not least perhaps for the memorable lines:

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same.”

Each of us has experienced both triumph and disaster but how have we learned to deal with them? I don’t have any wise words to share in answer to this question other than to reflect on my own life journey and on my observations of the journeys of others. I read recently an address that J.K.Rowling (of Harry Potter fame) gave at the graduation ceremony at Harvard. The address was entitled “The Fringe Benefits of Failure.” In it she talked candidly of her own failures, which as a young woman rendered her “as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain” and how in that dark time she experienced the stripping away of the inessential and the realization of what was really important.

During the past few weeks we have watched, mesmerised, the events in that land across “the Pond” and observed leaders coping with success and failure and have, no doubt, expressed opinions on this. In the UK we continue to watch the final writhings of the Brexit negotiations, ourselves coping with success or failure according to our standpoint.

O Lord we pray that you will help us to fail bravely and succeed generously. Amen.

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