Have you ever failed at something? If you have ever taken a risk, or basically gone outside in your life, I’m sure you have failed before. Failure is a tricky thing too. When we fail, we are often told to simply try again. This may be really easy to say, but I find that with certain failures, it is not so easy.
In sports, you are taught to have a short memory when you mess up something. I once threw interceptions on back to back throws in high school, but had to go back out and throw my next pass like I had been perfect that day (my next pass was incomplete… I sucked at football). These types of seemingly inconsequential failures are to be expected, but I believe we have other failures in our lives that impact us in a far more negative way; the type of failure that leads us to give up the thing entirely.
I think one of the best illustrations of this would be the story below:
The Elephant and the Rope
As my friend was passing the elephants (at the zoo), he suddenly stopped, confused by the fact that these huge creatures were being held by only a small rope tied to their front leg. No chains, no cages. It was obvious that the elephants could, at anytime, break away from the ropes they were tied to but for some reason, they did not. My friend saw a trainer nearby and asked why these beautiful, magnificent animals just stood there and made no attempt to get away.
“Well,” he said, “when they are very young and much smaller we use the same size of rope to tie them and, at that age, it’s enough to hold them. As they grow up, they are conditioned to believe they cannot break away. They believe the rope can still hold them, so they never try to break free.” My friend was amazed. These animals could at any time break free from their bonds but because they believed they couldn’t, they were stuck right where they were.
Like the elephants, how many of us go through life hanging onto a belief that we cannot do something, simply because we failed at it once before?
Source: The Unbounded Spirit
I don’t know about you, but this story blew me away the first time I read it. If you think about it, we are just like the elephants. When we fail, we usually attribute the failure to a lack of ability, as opposed to a misstep or miscalculation. We bomb an interview, so we assume we are not qualified for that job. We ask that girl out, get rejected, and assume we are a loser. We try out for the team and don’t make it. We fail, and we give up.
In our relationship with Christ, failure is no different. We step out in faith and talk to our family member or friend about Jesus, and get shot down, so we assume we cannot be used by God. Maybe we try to avoid temptation, but fall back into the trap of sin. We then assume there is no point in resisting temptation, so we give in to sin. When we fail in our relationship with God, I think it is even more detrimental, because we allow that to shape our perspective of God; this is where failure is especially dangerous.
Bob Goff speaks of failure in Love Does with an interesting perspective:
“The thing I love about God is He intentionally guides people into failure. He made us be born as little kids who can’t walk or talk or even use the bathroom correctly. We have to be taught everything.”
God has designed life in a way that requires us to be completely dependent on Him. As Bob points out our lives are a perfect example of this. Reagan is 2 months old (as I write this), and can literally do nothing on her own. In fact, she cannot even support her own head. We have to feed her, clothe her, burp her, change her, and carry her everywhere she goes; all the while, we are not surprised by this dependence.
We are not perfect, and that does not surprise God. Failure is all part of the process of following Jesus. Satan’s greatest attack is to leave us crippled by a fear of failure, but when we understand failure is inevitable, we can have confidence that God has factored in our imperfection into our calling.
I think the best example of this is with Peter in Luke 22. Peter, one of Jesus’s closest friends and followers, denies even knowing Jesus. Once Jesus is arrested, Peter is afraid of his potential arrest, so he decided it was better to deny Jesus, even going as far as to curse the name of Jesus. Realizing what he has done, Peter actually goes back to fishing, his profession before following Jesus. In his biggest moment to stand for Jesus, he cowered and went the opposite way.
However, instead of condemning Peter, the next time Jesus and Peter interact (after raising from the dead), Jesus greets Peter with a meal and grace, not with condemnation and guilt. Peter failed big time, but Jesus offered Him even bigger grace. That is how Jesus meets us. We fail big time, yet He meets us with grace and love that we cannot imagine.
In my own life, I have been feeling this tug and pull of failure recently. As a parent, I already feel like I am failing in some ways. I get really frustrated when Reagan cries at 3:30 am for no reason, and have found myself cussing out her bottle as I make it. In my relationship with Jesus, I have bombed sermons, failed against temptation, and missed opportunities to step into my calling. Yet at every turn, grace is there to pick me up.
Don’t let your failure define you. I am not a bad parent because I get upset or frustrated anymore than I am a bad Christ follower because I sin. Instead, lean into the failure, knowing God meets failure with grace, over and over again. If you’re going to live your purpose, failure is going to be necessary. When faced with something we may fail, remember that God has called us to live a faith-filled life, not a safe one.
Let me leave you with one last thought from Bob Goff:
“I used to be afraid of failing at the things that really matter to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”
Trust the process. Take your next step. Now is your moment.