Do you ever feel like you are more familiar with failure than success?
This week as I wrestled with big ideas at a table full of young adults who are just starting to learn, really learn, how to think about something besides themselves in a way that allows them to view others and this world they live in, I pondered the grace-deep truths that successive failing sinks slowly over our souls.
And I think there is a defining that must occur when we consider the meaning of failure. Because as with everything, really, our perspective and ability to know the truth clouds the way we understand it all.
How do you define failure?
The dictionary says failure is a lack of success. In my imperfect, totally self-focused view, I have always perceived failure as a lack of my own ability to do the right things. The key words are: my own. And any philosophy where I am the author and negotiator of truth is going to be faulty. Dependent upon me alone is a statement bound up in failure.
Yet, if asked, many of us would say it is in our weaknesses we come to know a deeper strengthening, it is in our losses we come to know a fuller joy, it is in failing that we often experience the best successes.
In these everyday discussions we have together, doing life together in the simple and the hard… I find that the simple things take me to a deeper revelation of His Goodness. Routinely, I learn the most from the failings than I do from the victories.
Because failures are often the catalyst that lead us further into his favor and grace and make us even surer in our steps. Without those moments where we have to reassess, look again, reconsider, and start over we wouldn’t necessarily need to look outside of ourselves. We wouldn’t need God.
Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood…
For my heart was grieved, embittered in a state of ferment, and I was pricked in my heart. So foolish and stupid and brutish was I, and ignorant;…Nevertheless, I am continually with You; You do hold my right hand.
You will guide me with your counsel and afterward receive me to honor and glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And I have no delight or desire on earth by you.
My flesh and my heart may fail but God is the Rock and firm strength of my heart and my portion forever.-Ps 73:17,21-26
In His presence we recognize that our limited perception leaves us emptied of God and full of ourselves. And amazingly, like many of the upside down lessons in the gospel, this recognition reveals that failure is a grace, too. This failing in our self, that brings us to the throne of grace for well-timed help, is the mercy of God for us, because it brings us to Him. We learn more about His goodness as we stumble into His grace. In falling right into Him in our insufficiency, we are baptized into the ocean of His completely perfect love.
The strength of success is built not on all those things we did right, but solidly on the lessons of what we had to do over and look harder and seek deeper and wait longer for.
Our momentary setbacks are not failures but detours on these journeys of grace we take. They are opportunities to reset and review and redeem the good that is always there within our grasp if we choose to look for it. And they really are a gift, that we can share with others to bring them further on their journey because wisdom is always shared in community. And it takes humility to point out where we went wrong. Wisdom and humility are a character of those who have walked with God, but also those who have fallen and risen, repeatedly.
As my students wrestled with some big things the other day, I wanted to show them how to take a failure and see it differently. In essence, I set them up to wrestle. They didn’t appreciate it at first… some still may not…but they do believe that I have their best at heart. And that makes all the difference.
As we come nearer and nearer to the heart of the Father, we see, too, that He has His best in mind for us. He has good in store for those who purpose to follow hard after Him. And there are times, many of them, that He allows us to wade through the valley of failure and difficulty because it forces us to look deeper, seek harder, and pursue farther the purposes He has scribed on our hearts.
Failure is an opportunity to know God more, to draw closer to truth through the humble admission we need Him, to delight in the wonder of grace and mercy as we constantly seek Him in our less than lovely moments.Just because we can’t see the full picture, doesn’t mean we have failed in our journey. Unlike God who sees our end from our beginning (Psalm 139) , we have yet to perceive the whole story of our days.
It is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God and mad Him my refuge that I may tell of His works. Ps 73:28
Even as I wrote this, I found myself walking into one instance after another where I failed to make the best choices. I didn’t love my best, nor did I respond in grace all the time. I failed ridiculously to communicate well with that teenager who sat at a table with me earlier this week and discussed the importance of learning lessons through falling and getting back up again.
But it is this grace thing… this favor that is an extension of His love for us… which gives me hope and reminds me that every failure can be a seed of victory if we let it be watered well with the testimony of His goodness. Because if God is our rock and firm strength and portion forever, then our failures … like our sufferings and our victories and our living… is never once wasted.
I am praying today that in all that you do, you would know His grace and mercy and let it lead you to keep moving forward on the journey.
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