How Do You Respond To Failure?

Nobody likes to fail. Me especially.  I’m a goal setter. I schedule out every hour of my day. I have plans and dreams and ambitions. I have desires to grow spiritually and be faithful to God.

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And yet, as surely as the sun goes down at night, the dark shadow of failure hangs over my head daily. Whether I fail to meet a work goal, or say something insensitive to my wife, or lose my temper with my kids, or worse, failure is a constant and inescapable part of my life. In fact, I recently told my wife that I often feel the next day’s failure before I even go to bed at night.

Because failure is so unpleasant, we often respond in unhealthy ways.

1. Minimizing. “It’s not so bad.” You’re being too hard on yourself.”  The tendency to minimize failure is understandable. After all, if we give our failures full voice, they may just say something about us that we don’t want to hear. But failure is the mirror on the wall that shows us who we are. It’s not pretty. But it’s undeniable. And it’s us. We can shatter the mirror or paint it up, but the failure it reflects remains.

2. Comparing. “Well at least you didn’t do what Johnny did.” Comparing is closely related to minimizing because we try to lessen the pain of our own failures by focussing on the failures of another. But that’s like an ant calling the flee a pip squeak while both are standing before a skyscraper.

3. Blaming. Another unhealthy response to failure is shifting the blame. “The devil made me do it.” “If my boss wasn’t so unreasonable, then I wouldn’t have…” “If you only knew my wife…” Blame-shifting allows me to fail without responsibility. And if I’m not responsible for my failure, then it doesn’t reflect any deficiency in me.

4. Trying Harder. The last unhealthy response is probably the one I am most prone to. And the one that is most dangerous. When I fail, I just buckle down and try harder. My effort becomes the way I deal with my failure. Implicit in this approach is the belief that my effort will remove my failure.


The problem with all of these responses to failure is that they are essentially false saviors. They are all attempts to deal with our failures apart from the death and resurrection of Jesus. They are all attempts to keep the old self alive. To think he’s not so bad after all. To rehabilitate him and improve him and turn him into a winner…in the power of the Spirit, of course!

But Jesus has no interest in rehabilitation. Only death and resurrection.

Until the Law lays us in the grave, Jesus can’t raise us to life. Until the Law condemns, Jesus cannot forgive.


Not only do these responses to failure undermine the work of Jesus for us; they also undermine our ability to grow in love for Jesus.

Have you ever experienced one-way love? Love from a spouse or parent that was completely contrary to what you deserved? When someone loves you in this way, you can’t help but love them more. Because by loving you contrary to what you deserved, you saw in them a deep beauty that transcends all the conditional loves we are so used to.

That’s why embracing our failure is so crucial. It’s only when we feel the horror of our sin and weakness before God that we begin to see the deepest parts of God’s heart. When he meets us in our failure (indeed our grave!) with a bloody-cross and empty-grave sort of love and says, “I delight in you,” it is then that we begin to see how beautiful our God really is. And we can can’t help but love him more.

Failing in the context of God’s love for us is essential to increasing our love for God.

When we are at our worst, God is at his best. And it is this that I think gets to the essence of Christian Spirituality.

Question: How do you think this concept of failing, as the way forward in our relationship with God, relates to exerting effort in our Christian lives?


  1. Reply
    Cheryl says

    Loved this post! Thank you for your authenticity, and for your insight on failure as a Christian 🙂

    I can relate with ALL the ways of dealing with failure you listed! The one I most often struggle with though is “blaming.” If I can find someone, or something, to make me feel less responsible for my own weaknesses, it makes me feel better about myself. My pride grows. And for a little time–sometimes longer–I can feel like the better person, or the victim, or justified by my own actions. I can forget what Christ has already done for me on the Cross and feed my old self lies. Lies that don’t just whisper, but declare, “I am enough.” That Christ’s death and ressurection simply has no meaning in my life. I think the dangerous thing about this is that this self-justification is so self-deceiving! If I don’t view myself as already weak, then God’s stregth cannot prove true in my failures. CHRIST’s justification gives me TRUE acceptance and peace.

    J and I were just talking about how this plays out in our marriage the other night. Thankful God loves me–and J loves me–in spite of how much of a failure I am. Although I’m tempted to despair often when I recognize my failures, I’m SO humbled to know God has already forgiven me. And NOT ONLY THAT, He LOVES me. And like you said, I think experiencing that in relationships helps me flesh it out all the more.

    • Reply
      Andy Barlow says


      Thanks for your insightful comments. Are you guys back yet. Hope you had a wonderful vacation.

      • Reply
        Cheryl says

        Love your blog. We’re still in FL! Come back Sunday. It’s been a great family vaca. Cyall soon!

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