After accepting a CEO position at a non-profit, in which he could make or break the organization’s future, he said, “I believe that one of the great comforts of the gospel is the freedom to fail.” I heard this echoed recently by a friend when he made a somewhat risky vocational decision. Though he struggles with the opinions of others, he was able to say: “the worst I can do is fail.” He smiled as he said it, and I rejoiced in his spiritual maturity, which clearly surpasses my own.
There are so many benefits available in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The freedom to fail is a fine one, given how most of us feel like a failure.
Two kinds of failure
Our failures are not all of the same type.
“I failed the test. I studied but ended up with an F.”
“I failed the test. I was alone on a business trip and assumed I could resist temptation, but the first thing I did was turn on the porn channel.”
These are two very different failures. One reveals that we are fallible humans who make mistakes; the other violates the clear commands of the Lord. Ironically, given a choice, many of us would prefer a small moral failure to one in which our blunders are exposed. I’ll leave the more serious matter of failure involving sin for another time, and consider the one that is less serious but feels more pressing.
The category of failure-because-we-are-human is one all of us face. This is the failure you experience when you don’t make the cut for the varsity team and all your friends do, or you don’t get the job, or you lose the church vote for deacon, or a date never calls back.
At times like these, we assume that everybody sees that we are losers, and we are persuaded that we are losers.
Bring failures to the Lord
One of the telltale signs of this kind of human failure is that we are slow to bring it before God. Moral failure is different; we know we must do business with the Father. But human failure has independent instincts, or, at least, we assume it is about our reputation before other people rather than our relationship with the Lord.
But the Lord does have something to say about it.
Start by telling him what is going on.
What is it? What failure are you upset about? (“My whole life” doesn’t count. Be more specific).
What are you really saying? Is it something like this: “People think I’m a jerk!” “I have made life more difficult for my family.” “I expected more of myself.”
Anything you need to confess? There is probably no obvious sin if the matter is not a moral failure, but we can always confess our over-interest in personal reputation.
The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. (James 1:9-10)
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Cor.1:26-29)
For more on this topic, you might like to read: Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection