Monday, July 8, 2013

Failure is Essential to Discipleship

You often see memes and reposted sayings on Facebook and Twitter concerning failure (as well as a variety of other topics!). I like these. Like most people I am, to a certain extent, uncomfortable with failure---even if it was an "honest" failure resulting from an admirable attempt, and even though I know that none of us succeeds at everything we attempt. (Nothing in particular has prompted these thoughts, other than the good feeling I get from these kinds of memes and sayings when I read them.)

Sayings and slogans remind us and bolster our confidence. I found just a few on Twitter this morning:

“Success is going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.”

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”  (Winston Churchill)

“If you are afraid of failure you don't deserve to be successful!” (Charles Barkley)

“Failure happens all the time. It happens every day in practice. What makes you better is how you react to it.” (Mia Hamm)

"Sometimes our greatest insight comes from our failure, not from our accomplishments."

“If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.” (Woody Allen)

Martin Luther put it another say with his famous saying, Pecca fortiter, sed fortius fide et gaude in Christo, “sin boldly, but even more boldly believe and rejoice in Christ.” He meant that, as a help for a distressed conscience, we can have a realistic self-assessment of ourselves as imperfect and sinful---but as saved sinners because of the power and grace of Christ.

Sometimes I wonder if we Christians have a low tolerance for weaknesses and failures---our own and others'---and even things that aren't failures, but personality traits in other Christians that don't suit us, for whatever reason. We perceive them as failures to be Christ-like.

I wonder what it is about Christian faith, that sometimes encourages discomfort with human failings and fallibility. Do we think we're always going to be utterly Christ-like all the time? I remember a parishioner who nearly left a church because another parishioner had spoken to her harshly. We wouldn't leave a job on that basis, but somehow church settings can be places where our painful humanness can feel distressing and disappointing.

Our pastor has a wonderful introduction to the Eucharist---which she said she adapted from a liturgy----where she tells us that communion is for those who feel close to Christ, and for those of us who have failed; for those who have experienced grace, and for those who need a little more.

What if we accepted, in advance, that we and our fellow Christians are often going to be frustrating and difficult, always stumbling in one way or another in the Christian walk? What if we quit being fussy when our pastor is imperfect (because he or she is always going to be)? What if we really "owned" the fact that becoming a Christian doesn't mean you have it all together, and that eventually you'll disappoint someone or mess up?

If you beat up on yourself for failures in your Christian walk, or if you judge others harshly for their shortcomings and quirks, remember: failure is an essential way to grow! Through failure we learn, experience God's love, gain wisdom, and grow. We could be more happy and confident---and more joyful in the Lord, I think----if we could integrate the inevitability of failure into our Christian outlook and be compassionate toward ourselves and fellow Christians when we struggle.

After all, we love the Apostle Peter, the disciple who was endearingly “human” as he struggled to follow Jesus. Peter's faith, so characterized by stumbles and misunderstandings, became the rock of the church. We also marvel at King David, a person after God’s own heart who, nevertheless, “fell” badly in his life and suffered the consequences.

Think about some of those sayings and slogans above, but put them in a Christian context.

“The Christian walk is going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm about God's love and grace.”

“Failure happens every day in your Christian life. What helps you grow is how you keep offering your whole self to God, who will never, ever give up on you."

"Sometimes our greatest opportunities for spiritual growth come from our failures, both large and small."

“If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not 'stretching' in your faith."

When we're supportive of one another in our failures, large and small, we show compassion and empathy which the Bible teaches are essentials. Yesterday our pastor talked about Galatians 6:1-5, where Paul contrasts the burdens we carry. We all do have to carry our own burdens, but we are companions of one another and partners in faith, so that we truly help one another carry our burdens----and so we’re not put off when another Christian displays that difficult humanness that is, after all, our own lives, too.

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