Blog | Lindsey Smallwood


When Learning Looks Like Failing

Best of...Lindsey Smallwood

Over at Middle Places, we're thinking about learning this month. Turns out, my own learning hasn't been pretty lately...

Learning looks a lot like failing right now.

Like when I tried to teach a new song to kids at our church's VBS program last month. I hadn't practiced the motions before I started and ended up tripping myself and tumbling dramatically to the carpet. Much to the delight of the assembled four-year-olds watching my slow motion dance-tastrophe. 

Or the long strange silence reverberating through the sanctuary on a Sunday in June. The room should have been filled with the sound of the congregation reciting the Apostle's Creed. Except I assisted in worship and forgot what came next. Just totally forgot, even though I held the program in my hand. The silence might have gone on forever had the choir leader not stood up from his seat in the loft and prompted me that now would be a good time to affirm our faith together. In my flustered state, I called for the offering instead.

Nothing like standing up in front of 500 people and getting it all wrong.

Sometimes the failing looks less embarrassing and more endearing. Like this picture I snapped of my two-year old last month. Those sweet little shoes are on the wrong feet, but they’re on at all because he did it himself. He’s learning, figuring out a new skill one piece at time.

That’s the thing about learning anything that matters. Most of time making mistakes is part of the process. Experimenting and trying and failing and trying again.

I didn’t know this when I was younger. A lot of things came easily to me, especially academics. In fact, school was so easy for so long that when I began to struggle with upper level math and science courses in high school, I just assumed that those were beyond my abilities, that I wasn’t a science person. The truth is I hadn’t yet learned to persevere when things didn’t come easy to me.

But God in his great grace has given me a lot of opportunities to learn to persevere since then, challenging jobs, a long-term relationship and especially parenting  have all been spaces of learning how to fail — and try again. In all of these contexts and more, I’ve noticed the best and most important things in my life require carrying on even when it’s hard, even after you fail.

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he reminds them of the calling to grow in our understanding and bear with each other. He writes:

Let us not become weary in doing good,

for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:9


Don’t give up! Keep on doing the right thing even when you’re weary, even when yesterday you made a spectacular mess of things. When we’re building toward what really matters, we keep our eyes on the final result, the harvest God has planned, not the ways we get tripped up on the way there.

Like the sweet VBS kids who managed to learn God’s truth through music despite my terrible dance moves. Or my son, who’s continuing to build skills allowing him to fulfill God’s purposes in his life someday.

And me. I’m signed up to assist in worship again next week. You better believe that I’ll be practicing in front of the mirror in hopes of avoiding another thundering silence. But ultimately I know I’m learning to lead, that the opportunity to work on a church staff and serve our congregation is a way that God’s growing me in this season.

Learning sometimes looks like failing. But as we persevere, even when we’d rather sit in the back row and not risk embarrassment, we move closer to the good things God called us to do.

This post originally appeared at Middle Places. 

A Little Too Tidy

Lindsey Smallwood

My toddler is tidy. 

I know, it's weird.

Most of the tiny humans I know are like little Tazmanian devils leaving a whirl of blocks and balls in their wake.

But Bobby likes his blocks "cweaned up" and his balls put away. He asks to have his hands wiped at meals. He runs to the kitchen and gets towels if I spill my drink.

As an extension of this cleanliness craze, he loves to put things in the garbage can, which is awesome when it's a dirty diaper or a used napkin. Less awesome when it's a dropped library card or a misplaced turquoise ring, both of which had to be rescued from my kitchen trash recently. 

We laughed when, after an Easter egg hunt, Bobby opened his eggs, removed the candy and proceeded to immediately throw the empty eggs away. He didn't see the potential to use the brightly colored plastic shells as stacking cups, bath toys or rock containers. He just took what was familiar to him - the candy - and moved on.

Sometimes, we're all like this.

We try to move quickly through hard times because we don't want to be dirtied by heartache or doubt or grief. We want to get to the good stuff, the familiar place.

But we can miss out on life's lessons because we think it's easier not to dwell on the mess.

I'm totally guilty of this. Like in hard conversation with a friend. Or bad news from the doctor. Or an argument with my husband that leads to both us walking away, quiet and hurt. 

In those moments, when I'd rather flip on the TV or scroll through my phone, soothing myself through distraction, there's instead an opportunity. 

Messes can be opportunities. Opportunities to start fresh, to put pieces back together in new ways, to reevaluate what matters. To say "Let's start over" or "We're in this together". To allow the still small voice within us to teach and comfort and guide.

We crave what's familiar. We want life to be orderly and predictable. But messes happen. And when they do, we can't always go back to the way things were before. But we can trust that if we listen and watch and wait, there is beauty to be found, to be made in our chaos.

So put the dustpan down and sit awhile. You might just learn something.

How's it looking, friends? Are you facing a messy situation?

Here's to learning together as we live it out.




On E-F-G's & Singing Your Song

Lindsey Smallwood

My toddler loves music.

He’s a singer and a clapper and a dancer and a drummer. He can’t help but do a little shimmy when he hears a good beat.

After naptime, he stands in front of the stereo, pointing and saying “Moo-dic? Moo-dic?” with a pleading smile.

His favorite is the “ABC” song. He loves to hear it and loves to sing along. He calls it EFGeeee. EFGeeee because that’s the only part of the song he actually knows.

Listening quietly to the first couple letters, he chimes in loudly when we get to E-F-G and then continues his exuberant refrain while I sing the rest of the song.

EFGeeee! EFGeeee! EFGeeee!

I smile and think “Sing, baby, sing.”

Eighteen months ago you couldn’t even sleep without help. But you know things now, you’re eating and walking and talking and singing. So what if you don’t know all the words?

Thank you for not waiting to be perfect to contribute your voice. 

Sing, baby, sing.

I’m trying to teach you the alphabet while right here in front of me you’re teaching me about pleasure and freedom. Utterly unselfconscious, you delight in the sounds tumbling from your mouth and filling the space around us.

You show me that some things are worth doing if only because you find them delightful. There isn’t always a deeper meaning or a step leading to something more. Joy is the reason you sing.

Sing, baby, sing.

Instead of worrying about what you don’t know yet, you’re using everything you’ve got. Three little letters and a simple refrain.

And you know something powerful. That happiness only grows when it’s shared. You look at me with your light-filled eyes and your song becomes an invitation to join you in your joy. How can I resist?

Sing, baby, sing.

And I’ll sing with you for as long as you’ll let me.

I’ll teach you about melody and rhythm and staying in tune and you can teach me about bravely being who you are along the way.

Sing, baby, sing.

And to you, sweet friends, whatever little bit of melody you've got going on in your heart today, here's hoping you're letting it sing.