I write this with the taste of failure still in my mouth, hoping that essays are best served up fresh. The world is looking surreal today, and the trick will be to keep hold of the good and let go of the bad. The good is the reality check. My old friend Bob White told me in Switzerland that “humility is just acknowledging reality,” and this is true. No need to gin it up, the facts suffice: I stink at the food service industry.
It’s a little tender to unpack that proposition further at the moment, but for your sakes I will: I have a goldfish-like memory, poor social skills, and no aptitude for figures. Scratch that layer and you come to the bedrock of “stupid.” I just looked up “stupid” and the definition actually fits: “Lacking intelligence or common sense.” Someone once said that everyone is stupid in something and smart in something. That is more than I can know. This I know: Most people would rather be thought immoral than unintelligent. You may ponder that verity of fallen nature.
It just so happens that on the day I got fired (a harsh word, but he was actually so nice that I almost didn’t understand) I also went to a fancy restaurant called Morton’s at Broad and Walnut, the priciest real estate in Philadelphia. If I had not had that afternoon’s experience, I would not have appreciated the rare qualities of a $300-a-night waitress. I wanted to stand up and applaud, but instead I left her 20 percent.
I would like to applaud schoolteachers too, having failed at that profession as well. The first time was 1979-80, and the second time five years ago, or whenever it was that I got the daily columnist job at WORLD online. For that is how I came to be employed in that capacity, as God used failure for a launching pad. This is not one of His more fun ways.
But it was His way with John Frame too, author of Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Frame writes in a rare autobiographical reflection: “Around age 13 I committed my life to the service of Jesus Christ. … So if I had the gifts of God to be a missionary, I would be a missionary. … Well, to make a long story short, I did not have the gifts to be a missionary. I corresponded with missionaries and visited a number of them in Africa and elsewhere and concluded that I was not any kind of cross-cultural communicator. Then during seminary I had a number of pastoral internships. My self-evaluation and the comments of others indicated that my preaching was acceptable, but I was not equipped at all for other phases of ministry, like counseling, youth work, mercy ministry, and church administration. Somewhat disappointed, I shuffled back to academics.”
This is how God makes Epistemologists and Presuppositional Apologists.
Anne Lamott discloses regarding her evolution as an author: “I became a socialist, for five weeks. Then the bus ride to my socialist meetings wore me out.” (Sigh). In my own case, I was willing to stick out the bumpy beginnings of the road to world-class waitressing, but my boss was less so. The only credit I can remotely give myself is that, for the first time in my life in any sphere, I forsook the policy of “jump before you’re pushed,” and I even prayed that if God didn’t want me making $7.50 an hour serving sandwiches, I would get fired rather than quit. Who says God doesn’t answer prayer?
My kids were philosophical and encouraging. My mother had a different reaction. She just kept shaking her head with disbelief and saying, “I can’t believe it. You got fired from ‘Rocky’s.’ From ‘Rocky’s!’” Which was only slightly less hurtful than when, on The Simpsons, Seymour Skinner’s mother says, “Seymour, what is it with you and failure?”
But my point is that failure is not to be despised. It does wonders for the “pride of life” problem: “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:16). And the lesser byproduct is meeting a magazine deadline.