Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Strength of Failure

Doing and saying things that cause us to fail is always disheartening.  It doesn’t matter how far we’ve come and how many successes we have collected – one step back into failure seems like so much more at times.  Some failures are hard to brush off so that we can move forward again.  They hang onto our shoulders and pull us down.

No one likes to fail.  To attempt something and not succeed is embarrassing, humbling, and cringe-y.  I can list little failures every day – I said the wrong thing to a friend, ate cookies instead of carrots, yelled at my kids, ignored my husband when he came home from work – they go on and on.  I feel each of those failures like a pinprick, and usually during quiet moments when my mind’s laser-focus hones in on exactly what’s wrong with my character.

Perhaps that laser-focus could also be considered a failure.

Failure, whether it arrives as rejection, losing a job, forgetting a friend’s birthday, paying a bill one day late, or any number of other things, often isn’t the main event.  What we do with failure is more important.  Did we try to hide our failure?  Was our reaction to it anger and shame?  Did we blame others for it?  Did we internalize it, stew in it for a while, let it affect our relationships, and allow it to be just one more thing that defines who we are?

Or did we acknowledge the failure, accept that we made a mistake, grow and learn from it, use it to encourage others, and come out of it more solid and confident?

Peter failed spectacularly as a disciple of Jesus, which makes him one of my most favorite Bible characters.  He showed little faith in big ways several times – he disbelieved Jesus’ ability to do miracles (Matthew 14:18), he told Jesus to stop talking about being crucified (Mark 8:32-33), and despite being one of Jesus’ core group of disciples, when things got scary he denied even knowing Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75). 

Peter’s impulsivity is endearing to me.  He bravely left his job immediately when Jesus said “Come, be my disciple” (Mark 1:17-18) and he boldly told Jesus he would join him in death (John 13: 36-37) – yet his foibles are many, and well-documented in the gospels.  He was blustery and full of enthusiasm for his role as disciple, but he never changed his stumbling ways.  He tried, failed, and picked himself up again, stronger than before.  Fun fact: Jesus actually renamed him Peter, which means “rock” (John 1:42).  Can’t get much stronger than that.

Peter “broke down and cried” (Mark 14:72) when he realized that his biggest failure – denying Jesus – had been predicted by Jesus himself.  He had to have admitted this to the other disciples or his account would not have made it into the gospels.  He didn’t hide his failures.  He used them to teach others that we need not be perfect to do great things for God.  Peter was a leader in the group of twelve disciples, and went on to be one of the key people to spread the word of Jesus around the world.  He wrote two books which made it into the Bible we read today.

When we fail, we do wrong things.  But we can’t let the story end there.  Failure can connect us to others, strengthen our morals, and allow us to do better.  Our character and abilities are vulnerable during failure, but each time we fail, we are given the opportunity to become stronger and role models for others.  The best part is that we can apply what we learned from failure to our faith, which is what God wants for us.

Failure gives us the chance to become rock solid in Christ.  No success is bigger than that.


“Now I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” (Matthew 16:18)

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