There is a fantastic scene in the new Mr. Rogers movie in which our beloved children’s show host hilariously fails at setting up a tent on his show. As he struggles with the apparatus and mutters under his breath, his crew can’t help but smirk at the good-natured man being bested by the very same type of thing that bests all the rest of us.
Giving up, Mr. Rogers announces that it “must take two grownups to set up a tent.”
The crew offers to have the tent preset and the scene shot again, but Mr. Rogers watches his own failure play out on the screen and declares that what they have is perfect.
When asked about why he allowed a humiliation to remain, Mr. Rogers explains that children need to see that adults don’t always get things right the first time, either.
Sometimes failure is just an excuse to start again.
I started this year with the goal of living intentionally into the values I had been taught early in life by people such as Mr. Rogers. I many ways, Mr. Rogers is everything I hope to be as a pastor: accepting, gentle, loving, effective, willing to meet people where they are, and always faithful… even in failure.
As with most New Year’s Resolutions, I failed no sooner than I left the gate and entered 2020.
I spent several weeks fighting off one virus after another–it seemed every bug going around town sought me out. Over the course of six weeks I nursed a stomach flu, a head cold, bronchitis, and then a sinus infection. Needless to say, I only managed to get the bare minimum accomplished over those few weeks.
Then I spent two weeks in Portland–one for ministry, and one for a personal retreat. It turned out, that personal retreat was more needed than I realized.
As adults we sometimes burn our candle at both ends. Children do, too–we all know how hard children can fight the notion of taking a nap or going to bed on time, even when their tiredness is so evident to everyone else. It’s a lifelong affliction of being human. We are always trying to cram just a little bit more into our day.
A week of silence and solitude did me a world of good and gave me a chance to reflect on the things that are important to me as I move forward.
Instead of falling into my normal pitfall of spending a “down week” feeling guilty about what I haven’t done and making long and exhausting lists of the things I want to do, I simply allowed myself to experience peace.
Failure didn’t feel so bad when I returned home and started working up a new to-do list. Instead, those false starts on the new year, the set backs, the moments where things didn’t go exactly as I had planned gave me an excuse to start all over again.
Mr. Rogers didn’t throw the tent across the stage when he couldn’t get it do what he wanted. A lot of the adults in my childhood might have done just that… and I’m the type of adult that has done that sort of thing.
When Mr. Rogers watched the playback, he didn’t see his well-planned vision for the scene being ruined by a troublesome device… no, he saw a chance to start all over again with a new message: sometimes things don’t always go the way we want them to, but we don’t have to throw them out.
So, here I am–at week 8, remembering a valuable lesson from a wonderful saint and starting again.
Every week I step into first grade classrooms at an inner city school and read resiliency-building stories to the children. Some weeks I forget something (at 67 years, I am forgetting more than I once did) or I make some blunder for which I must apologize and make amends. The first graders will mention the lapse for a few weeks, with a smile. I nod, smile, and talk about what we can do when we make a mistake. The first graders take it all in.