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.
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.
JESUS DIDN’T DIE TO MAKE US WINNERS
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.
WHY YOU MUST FAIL IN LOVE TO FALL IN LOVE
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?