At a particularly low point in my life, I discovered that I couldn’t spell the word failure. I wrote it out a few times in my journal.
Frustrated, I gave up and went to bed, realizing the next morning my obvious mistake of swapping the “l” and the “i” around. Now I think back to the repetition of the misspelled word in my journal and I smile at the irony of it all.
Truthfully though, memories of my failures stick to me much more clearly than my successes, and they hold a painful resonance that digs fearful heels into my life’s endeavors. The face-palm moment, for me, sometimes feels like a way of life. As a result, I have spent some time thinking about why failure has such a troubling hold.
Failure always starts with some kind of risk. The impulse to risk does not scare us, until we realize the possibility of failure in it. In fact, the world has primed us to take risks: ‘dream big’, ‘the sky is the limit’ and ‘reach for the stars’ are just some of the cliché’s that come to mind. That is not the problem. The problem is that the world does not teach us how to pick ourselves up after it’s all gone wrong. We simply get left behind, laughed at, bruised, scarred as we face a bunch of ‘I told you so’s. Once bitten and twice as shy, we avoid risks entirely, and we build our lives on insurance policies and back up plans.
Regarding this, there is a particular kind of hope offered by the Gospel of Christ.
Consider this trend in scripture: Moses fell out with his family and was seeking refuge in a desert before he led the Israelite’s to freedom, the City of Jerusalem was destroyed before it was rebuilt, and Jesus was killed by being nailed to a cross before he took his place at the right hand of the Father. A look through the stories of the Old Testament, into the Books of Prophecy, into their fulfillment in the New Testament and through the Letters to the Churches right up to Revelation reveal that redemption is the mysterious and rusted key that God uses to carry out His plan. Things once broken are restored over and over again. Likewise, the moment in which we are unraveled and come to the end of ourselves, is the place where the Glory of God comes to fruition in our lives. This redemption, by definition, is predicated on some kind of mess and is realized in the transformation of failure into something great and new. I can’t help feeling that it is necessary. Often it is the scarred and calloused parts of us where we have been sutured, mended and rebuilt that become the most beautiful parts of who we are.
If failure is necessary and we need to fall to break and be re-made, then we need to ask ourselves why it often produces fear and shame in our lives. After all, why would God use something as shameful and difficult as our failure in order to execute his loving plan for us? I cannot iterate more strongly that while failure is a natural part of God’s redemptive plan in our lives, the shame that we associate with it comes straight from the evil one. Shame is a learned and socially constructed emotion that paralyses us with fear and produces the feeling that we are not good enough and unworthy of love. It should be near the top of our list for signs of spiritual attack as it is a direct attempt to derail the redemption of God. Yet, God is stronger than our shame and fear, and the hope is not that we would overcome our failure, but our fear of it, to be re-made in His image.