If you don’t know what goose poop looks like, lemme tell you something – it looks a whole lot like a mossy little rock. And you’re probably asking “Who cares what goose poop looks like?” But you’re only asking that because you weren’t the one skipping stones with your son and you weren’t the one who picked up goose poop with your bare hands. If you were, then I promise you, you’d be very interested in what goose poop looks like.
I was only picking up that goose poop in the first place because Liz and Finn were tossing stones into the lake. Lucy was next to them, picking what I assume were poison berries. I didn’t feel like picking poison berries with my daughter (though I did say “Try not to eat those poison berries!” so I feel like I did my job there). So stones it was.
I heard Finn and Liz talking as they threw. Or rather, I heard them pause, each with a stone in hand, look at each other, each say something, and then throw. I got closer to listen to them. (Which is probably why I was distracted and picking up goose poop instead of stones.)
What they were saying was pretty cool. They would name a thing that they wanted to get rid of, thoughts and fears they wanted out of their lives, and then hurl the stone into the lake.
We had learned this from some friends who run a ministry up here in Connecticut. I won’t say what Liz’s and Finn’s things were, because that’s theirs to tell or not tell, but I’ll give you an example from when I did it myself, back when I was doing this retreat with some guys.
When I did it, we actually wrote something on the stone itself. The thing that I wrote on my stone was this: Failure.
I didn’t write Failure because I was going to metaphorically toss Failure away from me forever. That I, Conor, would never fail again! Victory, now and forevermore!!
No – I wrote that because the truth is that I am slightly terrified of failure.
When I was young and single, I rarely thought about failure. But something changes for men when we get married. At least it did for me.
When I was single, if I failed, who cares? I would suffer a setback, maybe embarrassment, maybe disappoint myself and others. But now, as a father, failure is a whole new kind of predator. Because as a father, you have built yourself into something different entirely. I have portrayed myself to my family and to the world as someone who will succeed through sheer force of will. I will provide. I will care for my wife and my children. I will be the strong one. I will come through, again and again, without fail, because I am the rock on which this family stands.
Which means that failure no longer is about disappointing myself. It isn’t even about disappointing others. It is about something far bigger: It is about being exposed. It is about being found out. It is about being discovered to be a fraud.
That is a fear that maybe more men than just me experience, though I can’t say for sure, since I can’t read minds. (Or maybe I’m just not trying hard enough to read minds. Fail!)
So I wrote Failure with a brown Sharpie on the flat side of the stone and I threw it into a lake.
This is the first time I told anyone what I’d written on it. I didn’t even tell the other guys that day.
It felt good. The act of throwing a rock into a lake felt in some small way like releasing the Fear of Failure. Far away, into a lake, where there’s probably all kinds of goose poop. (Eat that, Fear of Failure!)
I haven’t released it completely, of course. But when I threw it, something interesting happened. Almost immediately, I had an odd moment of clarity in which I realized that there was a momentary gap in my psyche – a gaping hole where Fear of Failure lived. Fear of Failure turned out to take up a lot of real estate in my head and heart.
This is what I came to realize as I looked to fill that hole:
….Before I go on, this is a solution based on something I believe in my faith. So this might not be for everyone. But like I said, I’m a Christian dad now, so take that for what it is….
This was the thought that filled the hole where Fear of Failure once lived:
I am not, and I cannot be, the the one who protects and provides for my family. Everything that I have I have been given by the grace of God.
Now, as a former atheist, I used to believe that this idea – that God provided everything – was just an excuse not to work hard, or not to take antibiotics when you were sick because all you needed was God, or do something similarly insane. I thought that all crazy Bible Thumpers believed that all they had to do was put their hands on a broken pipe that was spewing water all over the kitchen and pray that God would fix it. (BTW, I knew a guy that actually did this. It didn’t work.)
It’s not that. Provision through grace should inspire the opposite of laziness. It should inspire hard work. I have an enormous responsibility to my wife and my children and I take that seriously. And I do work hard. But I am not in control. My Fear of Failure comes when I believe the lie that tells me I can be in control of everything in this life if I just work hard enough and want it badly enough.
So the act of throwing a stone may seem like a small and kind of dumb way to fix a deep psychological issue. And listen – it doesn’t fix it. It is merely the best thing I can do in the moment.
Because there are few permanent fixes in this world; there are only reminders of who we are and what we can do, and a fix often looks like merely deciding to take a step in the right direction.
Like throwing a rock into a lake.
Also, it works better with actual rocks and not goose poop.