After playing the last note to their duet, our eight-year-old daughter shoved the music sheet back toward her big sister and forced herself to take a bow before stomping off the recital stage. As her sister proceeded to play her solo piece, our little girl cried in my arms, defeated and disappointed.
Though both girls performed their solos flawlessly, their duet didn’t go as well as they had hoped. After the recital, my husband and I tried to revive them with encouragement. We reminded them that it wasn’t about a one-time performance but about celebrating all they had accomplished this year.
For weeks I had watched our girls practice their duet, watching them push and pull as they figured out their rhythm and flow together. The entire process was a symphony of struggle. Trial and toil harmonized with surrender and accomplishment. Conflict and strife played bass while fun and entertainment played treble. Tears were our low notes, and laughter were our high notes. There were days when notes and personalities clashed, and days when music was made. I cheered them on on the days when they got it right and coached them to persevere on the days when practice wasn’t making perfect.
But when my girls were deflated by their less-than-perfect duet, I realized I had taught them to celebrate success and had failed to teach them to celebrate struggle. I hadn’t shown them the value of commitment to a challenge — the challenge of learning a new song, of enduring through frustration, of resisting the urge to hit each other, of co-laboring, and not giving up. All major accomplishments that can be had through struggle!
I wish I had thrown a parade for my girls after each practice to mark the accomplishment of a struggle. I wish I had helped them understand that though the process is ugly, it is the perfect way to help them cultivate all kinds of beauty — beauty that looks like persistence, surrender, patience, grace, teamwork, and sisterhood regardless of their talent.
I wish I had taught them what I had learned for myself when the church plant my husband and I had dreamed, planned, and toiled for failed. Planting a church had been the most grueling work we had ever done together, and after three years of struggling, we had very little to show for all that we’d given and all that we’d given up. In the trailing dust of defeat and discouragement we left behind, we couldn’t see how immensely the struggle we had gone through had gifted us.
But now we can look back and see how it gave immeasurable depth and breadth to our marriage and secured our foundation, bringing us even closer together. While it has felt counter-intuitive (and probably socially unacceptable) to celebrate the struggles and failure of a church plant, I have learned to do just that!
In so many of life’s circumstances, struggle is often the more significant and enduring reward. Sometimes the fruit of our labor is not what comes out of it but what we learn in the middle of it. In other words, the struggle is the fruit, and what we learn in the midst of the struggle is the reward.
I want to get better at celebrating in the midst of the struggle, and I want to teach my kids to do the same. Fortunately, I’m sure life will give me many more opportunities to practice.