Lucy: “Look at it this way Charlie Brown…
we learn more from losing than we do from winning.”
Charlie Brown: “That makes me the smartest person in the world!!”
— Charles Schultz
How do we humans become better people? What are the processes by which we may grow, develop, improve, and become productive members of society, or better still, “good people?” Education, of course, is one time-honored path to personal growth and improvement. Education can take many forms, including going to school, reading books, being mentored, personal reflection, group conversations, traveling to new places, meeting new people, and more. I observe that in the Christian community, we value education in its many guises for the process of spiritually forming believers into more mature and Christ-like Christians.
But there are other time-honored paths to growth and maturity. Consider what we see in stories about the lives of people. The best stories show how a person goes on a journey, makes mistakes, suffers losses, overcomes obstacles, endures disappointments and (potentially) comes through on the other side stronger, wiser, humbler, and more compassionate. In other words, a “better person.” We might sum this up as “life experience” or the “school of hard knocks.” The challenges, losses, and relational difficulties of life can help us grow by revealing to us our blind spots, character flaws, disruptive pride, and more.
The upshot of all this is that our character can be developed through our failures and disappointments just as much as through our formal education. Now, I will also observe that we humans spend a great deal of energy trying to conceal our mistakes and mess-ups. But with authentic character development, we learn that our failures are not fatal. In fact, our failures and disappointments have the potential to teach us a great deal.
Peter’s denials of Christ, which caused him bitter tears, also gave him a deeply personal experience of Christ’s gracious inclusion (see Mark 16:7). Paul’s “unanswered” prayers for God to remove his thorn in the flesh provided the opportunity for him to reflect on how God’s “grace is sufficient” and how God’s “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). So we, when we make wrong turns and mistakes, or when life doesn’t go as we had hoped, have lessons to learn, enabling us to continue our journey with hard-won wisdom. May God bless us with such development of our character.