In the 2011 movie We Bought a Zoo, struggling widower Benjamin Mee (played convincingly by Matt Damon) engages in a tense conversation with his pre-teen son on their drive to school. With the son’s reply of “Whatever” to his concern for the apathetic attitude towards school, Mee focuses in on the word — and his own grief spills over — as he expresses frustration with it. Whatever is not okay. He’s so over the word. It has no value whatsoever and he demands another word before he’ll let his son exit the car.
Mee’s son utters the word and as a viewer, our hearts break with it. When Rosie, the darling little daughter in the back seat, asks what “pren…peren…pernicious” means, Mee defines it (with so much depth of feeling):
“Uh… causing insidious harm or ruin.” Mee glances in the rear view mirror to his son. “Causing damage.”
That scene always strikes a chord with me.
As parents, we want the absolute best for our kids. We sacrifice. So often, we think of them first and put ourselves last. (As it should be, right?) We keep our eye on their future while we’re moving through the busy days of the present. And as a parent who’s floating from decision to decision (of which some could fall into the category of, “I did it for your own good“), it can be easy to succumb to the worry that I could be causing damage.
Are my decisions today affecting their future – their path in life, their relationship with Christ, even their memories of who their Mom was once upon a time? It’s a lot to consider.
We almost got in a car accident yesterday.
It was the first full day of Fall Break and I had to run to the grocery with two active little boys hopscotching along behind me. The trip was a bit stressful, as you can imagine, with “Why can’t I have this?” and “Please?!” questions in plenty, of which I had to say “No” to almost every one. By the time I got them loaded in the car in the pouring-down-rain, I was spent. So spent that as I began to back up our new car, I couldn’t hear the honking of the car I was about to hit over their riotous activity in the back seat.
The first thought that ran through my mind as I slammed on the breaks and my breathing shuddered to a stop: “Whoa! Thank you, God – I avoided causing some major damage.”
In this culture that can place such value on perfection, it’s embarrassing to openly admit that I totally blew it yesterday. (#EpicParentingFail) I felt like Benjamin Mee for a moment, as I shouted (none too sweetly) for the boys to quiet down in the back seat. The wipers continued to swipe the buckets of rain from of the windshield. My hands shook and in the reverberating silence that followed, I had to stop and catch my breath. And then the thought came to me…
I was trying to avoid the damage of a car accident, but I followed that up by possibly causing damage to them.
Our words are powerful. They can build up or tear down. They can provide healing or open a fresh wound. They can become a weapon – and cause damage the moment they slip from our mouth – before we know what just happened.
The bad news: It was an epic parenting fail.
The good news: Failure is not final.
Not ever. One failure doesn’t equal another if I learned from the experience. If it takes me from one place to a better one with the next step, then there’s value to be found. (I’ve always heard the term, “fail fast” in my corporate career, and it’s true here.) In fact, an epic fail can equal epic journey-walking after. And that’s the place I want to be in — in the midst of a journey that’s made the failures all worth it in the end.
We’re never going to be perfect parents. Or Christians. Or professionals, writers, spouses, friends… you name it. We’re going to be humbled day in and day out, especially when it comes to failure. And while I’m not saying we have to totally embrace it — let’s be honest, it stings — what am I am saying, and learning, and hoping for, is a certain measure of grace with ourselves when the failures come. After all, an epic fail can put us in a place of total reliance on Christ and with every single breath, we need that.
If you’re wondering how the movie turns out, I won’t spoil it. (You’ll probably want to see the film if you haven’t before.) Benjamin Mee experienced a little damage with his son, just like I did with mine. But as you can see, sometimes the #epicfail can lead to something amazing in the end.