Our society’s approach to failure is comical. I don’t care if it is business, personal lives, or politics; everything has to be spun as if it were a success. As soon as something bad happens, the talking heads start spinning it as an astounding achievement for whatever group they are associated with. Nothing is ever negative.
As individuals, we, like the political and other figures of our day, have this tendency to declare everything we do a success. We want to hide mistakes and failures. But what does this do to our growth if we actually grow more in our failures than in our successes? What are we turning ourselves into if we try to isolate ourselves from failure or deceive ourselves from really facing our failures?
Martin Luther, during the Protestant reformation, was influential in taking education out of the realm of the church and into the hands of the state. Dr. Marilyn Harran notes that by doing this, “Luther allowed both teacher and student to rejoice in learning and to permit mistakes and even failure without undermining a person’s value and importance.” In order to be content and have a healthy self-esteem, we must separate our worldly success from our inner peace.
We live in a culture where we attack failure so harshly that people become afraid to act because they are afraid to fail.
Unfortunately, this can happen in a church. It often seems like church leaders are like clay pigeons at a shooting range. As long as they are not doing anything, maintaining the status quo, and not rocking the boat, they are safe. But as soon as they start to move, the gunfire ensues and attempts to blow them to pieces. A healthy church is just the opposite; it is a place where people can be creative about ministries, attempt different things, and have people there to support them and encourage them when they fail. Every leader of every ministry in any church will fail at times. I will deliver some bad sermons. We’ll attempt some outreach programs that won’t click. The worship will be a distraction some times and not conducive to us worshipping God. Some children’s programs will be too chaotic and not gel. Every ministry will have failures, but a healthy church is a place where it is safe to fail. Instead of attacking and tearing down leaders in your church when they fail, be a place that builds up and encourage when people stumble.
A healthy family is like that healthy church. It’s one where everyone is a pillar of support under each other to propel one another toward their dreams: A place where children can try new things and have people there to support them and encourage them when they fail. And a healthy church and a healthy family must be made up of healthy individuals who feel free to try different things and know they will be valued and supported when they fail. Because if we are honest with ourselves, failing is something we do an awful lot if we are actually trying to grow.
It’s excruciating to watch kids learn to ride a bike. It’s rare to have that kid who can just pick up a bike and start riding. They fall and hurt themselves, but the adults around them encourage them to get back on and try again. The adults don’t yell at the children and scream, “You suck! Why are you always falling you stupid idiot!?” The kids are already telling themselves that in their head and sometimes even out lout. What they need is encouragement because the goal is to get that kid riding his or her bike. Eventually, through the pain and suffering, they can ride the bike and feel a sense of accomplishment.
The safest way to never fail is to never try something new or different. We all know picky eaters who will not try new food. I am not one of them. It doesn’t mean I will like everything I try, but it does mean I will taste it. Being a picky eater does have its benefits. It means that they will only eat what they like and not have to taste food that they dislike. I have experienced some disgusting tastes in my life when I have tried different foods. Not having those bad tastes does sound like a good thing, but it also means that I would not be able to discover what would possibly be my new favorite food. We miss out when we don’t try.
May we not let our failures define who we are. May we continue to learn through every situation and grow into who God wants us to be.