The Art of Failure

One of my favorite hobbies is lifting weights. Clearly, I don’t do it for appearances, but it’s still a vital part of my routine. Every morning begins with a trip to the gym. It refreshes my mind and gives me energy and focus for the rest of the day. If there’s ever a day when I don’t make it to the gym in the morning, I don’t feel like myself. If you think I sound arrogant right now, re-read the title of this post and stick with me!

When it comes to lifting weights, failure can be a very good thing. Failure means one of two things:

  1. You overestimated the amount of weight that you can lift (not good)
  2. You have pushed yourself to the point of exhaustion and, therefore, you aren’t able to lift a weight that you normally can manage (good)

The idea is that you will attempt to push yourself through failure, which forces your muscles to work harder than they normally would. This is how you become stronger. In other words, if you want to be successful in the weight room, you have to embrace failure. Failure represents an opportunity for growth and improvement.

While this attitude might make sense for the weight room, it’s rarely – if ever – one that we embrace in everyday life. In fact, many of us have a healthy fear of failure. We don’t like failure, or the emotions of disappointment and embarrassment, as well as feelings of inadequacy, that often come along with failure. But if you ask me, failure is underestimated and misunderstood. Although nobody enjoys failure, failure is an important – and necessary – part of life.

I have way too many “favorite” passages of Scripture, but out of all of them, 2 Corinthians 12 is near the top of the list.

“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:5b-10

In the chapter preceding, Paul has listed his resume, both as a Christian and an apostle (he may have been looking for work, as he wasn’t treated well at his job). His message was, “If anybody thinks they have a reason to boast….think again, because I’ve got you beat.” And it’s true: nobody has accolades like Paul. However, he chooses not to let his story center around his accomplishments, because he recognizes that as a Christian, you have something greater to celebrate: weakness. Paul reminds us that for Christians, failure is a good thing – it’s proof that we need Jesus to be our savior.

I’ll be honest, I believe this, but I don’t like it. I like the idea that Jesus can be my Savior, but there are times when I don’t want to need a Savior, because needing a Savior means that I have failed. However, being honest with myself, I recognize that I fail more than most. I sacrifice time with God to take on less important – and far less eternal – tasks. Days go by when I’m not the husband, or minister, or friend, or co-worker that I know I should be. I am a textbook perfectionist, so I tend to dwell on failures, often beating myself up over them so that I will perform better at the next opportunity. When I do this, I rob myself of a chance to have an intimate connection with God, a reminder that HE is the God of all of who I am, including my failures, weaknesses, and imperfections.

Because I am imperfect, I am qualified to have a relationship with Jesus

My prayer for myself, and for anybody else who may be reading this, is that we will celebrate our failures, and limitations, and setbacks, constantly reminded of the fact that the perfect response to failure is faith in the living God.

When we respond this way, failure can be our single greatest success story.