Faces on Faith: Planting seeds
Judith Towse-Roberts tells of a time when everything seemed to go wrong. Things were tight, her resources were stretched. She got home one night only to find a second notice from the gas company, and its accompanying threat. Her 11-year old son was in a tizzy because of a bad haircut. He’d tried to cover it up with a baseball cap, but his teacher had insisted he remove it in class – and all the other kids made fun of him. “Hey baldy!” Her second-grade daughter had lost a spelling bee that day on the word afraid. Her first-grader had been teased by her classmates when she had difficulties reading aloud. All in all it had not been a good day. But Judith refused to be held down. She told the children that they all needed to declare a Red-Letter Failure Day – and to celebrate, they’d go to McDonald’s for a Failure Party. When they wondered at her approach, she told them: “My Grandma Towse always used to say, ‘We learn more from our failures than from our successes.'” And with that they headed off for cheeseburgers and fries for what would be the first of many Failure Parties. “I hope,” she writes, “I’ve planted seeds in my children’s souls, gathered from the wisdom of women before me, to be scattered in their own gardens someday.” (Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul, 76)
When Thomas Edison was a child, he was told by his teachers that he was too stupid to learn anything. But he planted his academic failures, and in time they grew into over 1,000 patents. The light bulb alone was the product of over one hundred failed attempts.
Sir Isaac Newton was needed at home to help run the family farm, so his mother pulled him out of school to literally plant seeds. But he was a failure as a farmer – yet he planted his mistakes, went on to study at Cambridge, and in time changed the very way we view the universe.
Sidney Poitier tried to break into show business by auditioning for the American Negro Theater, and he bombed. He couldn’t even remember his lines. But he planted that failure and kept at it – and in time, helped pave the way for other persons of color as his failures blossomed into an Oscar for best actor for his performance in, ironically, “Lilies of the Field.”
So how do you deal with failure? How do you cope with things when they don’t go as planned? What seeds have been planted in your soul? When we faithfully plant the seeds, they will grow. We will not always understand how. The growth may indeed be imperceptible. But it is inevitable. The seed gets planted, and then, as Robert Fulghum famously pointed out in his essay All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, “The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we all are like that.”
The Rev. Dr. John H. Danner is the senior pastor at Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ.