My college roommate got married over the weekend. There were seven of us who lived together my last year of college; all seven are now married.
The bride—who is one of those people who is fabulous about keeping in touch with old friends—was there when Will and I got married right after graduation, when I was 21 and he was 22. Two more of us also married shortly after graduation. One of us married in her mid-twenties. Three more—including last weekend’s bride—married in their thirties.
Our experiences have been very different; age obviously isn’t the only factor, but it’s a significant one. I haven’t lived by myself for more than a few weeks at a time, ever. My friend has been living by herself, in her own place, for over a decade.
During the ceremony, the pastor encouraged the couple in the familiar ways you often hear at weddings. But he added something I don’t remember hearing at a wedding before. He told the couple, You will stumble. But if you’re lucky, you will learn to restore each other.
I was struck by the assumption that failure was a natural and normal thing, because it’s something that has taken me a very long time to learn. Too long, really.
I might have been adult enough to get married at 21, but I was still growing up. (I’m still growing up, even now. Are we ever through?)
As a recovering perfectionist and barely-adult, I used to act (I hate to admit this) as though mistakes were preventable. I couldn’t have articulated it then, but I believed it in my core. If you prepared/studied/planned appropriately, and didn’t do anything stupid, then you could get it right the first time, every time. If you didn’t it was your own fault.
A large part of my own growing up has been to learn that failure isn’t necessarily bad and success isn’t necessarily good. It took me years to believe this intellectually, and even longer for me to believe it in my core, as one of those bedrock virtues I act on without question, like brushing my teeth, or kissing my family goodnight.
I screw up on a pretty regular basis. I haven’t gone down in flames in a spectacular fashion (at least not lately, although that option certainly remains on the table) but I disappoint myself and the people around me in countless ways, sometimes quasi-intentionally but often not. I don’t get it right, the first time or the hundredth, sometimes because I’ve failed to practice or prepare or consider and sometimes because I’ve been as smart and considerate as I’m capable of being and I still can’t get it right.
I used to think these kinds of failures were a waste, plain and simple. That was a broken way of thinking. Now I think they’re a healthy part of life, if extremely frustrating in the moment.
It might sound depressing, to bring up marriage and our closest friendships and immediately shift into talking about how those relationships will disappoint us. But I think this assumption of failure—even in these significant relationships—is really healthy. Sure, it keeps the relationship from falling apart when I inevitably stumble, or my husband does, or my friend. But it also makes me a much kinder and gracious person, a better wife, a better friend. (Anne means grace, so you might think that would come easy to me. It hasn’t.)
I’m trying to teach my kids this healthy attitude towards failure (and model it for them, which is harder): that screwing up isn’t a great personal failing, but something normal and natural and inevitable in this life, like potty breaks and flossing and (more painfully) mosquito bites.
They will stumble; so will the people they love. I don’t know which is harder: learning to be gracious with yourself or with others. Neither comes easy.
I do know that if they’re lucky, they will learn to restore the people they love—and themselves.
Has this been a challenge for you? Thoughts on recovering perfectionism, inevitably disappointing relationships, and grace for your own stupid mistakes are welcome in comments.
This post originally ran on April 1, 2015.