The door of my parents’ home knocked and when my mother answered it she greeted an old gentleman with a warm smiling face. He asked her if this is where I had lived when I was a young man and if she was my mother. Slightly bewildered at this point, my mother replied yes to both questions. He seemed very pleased and introduced himself as John, a driving instructor who had collected me from that house 30 years previously, as he guided me to getting my driving test. He had been going through some of his old papers and had come across something that he wanted me to see. He gave my mother an envelope with my name on it, bid her good day with a smile and went about his business.
When my mother phoned me to tell me of this meeting, my face lit up. Not only did I remember John well, but I remembered him as one of the most gentle and encouraging people I had ever met. I went straight away to get the envelope.
Inside there were two pieces of paper. One was an official document, the other a hand written letter. I went to the letter first. After reading how John wished me well I came to this line,
‘I was going through a few documents that I retained from my days as a driving instructor and I thought you might like this as a reminder of a time nearly 30 years ago when you didn’t succeed on that particular day…’
I stopped and look at the official document; “Statement of Failure to Pass Test of Competence to Drive!” Funny thing, when I looked at it I felt a sting. It was an echo of a sting actually. An echo down the decades that reminded me, that as a 21 year old man I had been devastated to fail my driving test. I was angry at myself and I was embarrassed (ashamed almost) that people would see that I had failed. It was an echo of a sting that I have felt many times since.
Okay, I thought. This is a bit of a strange thing to have sent to me. I went back to the letter and suddenly it all became clear when I read the following lines,
‘… you didn’t succeed on that particular day and you came to me to get you ‘back on the road’ so to speak. You persevered and you did the job.’
I felt another echo down through the decades. I remembered how encouraging John had been; how he had believed in me and given me his full attention while teaching me. I remembered how he identified where I had gone wrong and how he had enabled me to work on those faults and correct them. I remembered the feeling when I passed the test and I remembered he had been as happy as I was that day.
What lessons John taught me three decades ago. What a reminder he gave me this morning. I believe his actions were reflective of how God sees us. God wants us to succeed. God loves us still in our failures. God enables us, through prayer and the guidance of others (remember that St Teresa of Avila said that we are the body, the hands, the feet, the eyes of Christ in the world) to see our faults and to work on them through life as we deepen our relationship with God and each other.
The paradox is, of course, that it is usually through failure and bearing with its sting, that we get the insight into how and where we are to develop. As John said in his letter, and as St James said in different ways, perseverance is the key. Our temptation is to feel that failure is the end – even Jesus’ followers gave in to that temptation when they felt that the Cross brought about the end. But of course, the cross was not the end. It was a gateway to a whole new, remarkable beginning. May we grow through our failures, with the help of God and others, and embrace new life through Christ Our Lord, Amen.
Jim Deeds is a Parish Development Coordinator and Training and Facilitation Officer in the Diocese of Down and Connor. Jim is also an author, poet, retreat giver and pastoral worker across Ireland and beyond.