Ding-dong. It’s the doorbell. You emerge from your home and find an unexpected gift waiting for you on your front porch. The gift is completely unexpected. You open it and find something enormously valuable inside.
And it ruins your day. You retreat to your room and sulk. You spend several hours thinking about that gift and feeling sorry for yourself. You can’t help but imagine how your life could have been so much better if only that gift weren’t left on your front porch. You replay the discovery of that gift over and over in your mind, wincing as you remember that moment you first laid eyes on it. You are utterly forlorn, completely dejected, crestfallen.
That’s how I’ve come to view failure. Failure is a valuable gift. But we usually don’t treat it as such.
Let me explain.
I used to dread failure. I didn’t see any good any it. Failure was this ominous, terrifying, malicious thing to be avoided at all costs. (To be fair, I still don’t enjoy failure, nor do I think it is pleasant. I try very hard to avoid it.) But I’ve since realized that failures can teach us invaluable lessons. Failures can help us come to our senses. A big, whopping, embarrassing, fall-flat-on-your-face failure can make us stronger than dozens of little successes ever could.
Let me illustrate this with a self-deprecating story. Last month, I was nominated by my Texas Tech classmates to represent our class in a public speaking contest. In the preliminary round, I was pitted against seven other students. Two judges listened to us give our 5-minute speeches, all the while taking notes. When finished, we stepped outside of the room so the judges could deliberate.
I felt good about my speech. No big mistakes, no big missteps, no fainting. Plus, I wasn’t too impressed by my competitors’ presentations. So I was certain I would advance to the next round.
But I didn’t. I wasn’t selected. My name wasn’t called for the next round. Walking across campus to my truck a few minutes later, I was stunned. Not angry, not devastated, but very, very stunned. I had convinced myself I would advance, and I hadn’t. I failed. I disappointed myself.
And, in hindsight, that’s wonderful. Because that failure challenged me to improve my public speaking and become a more eloquent orator. Had I placed better in that speech contest, I perhaps would have grown complacent, patted myself on the back, and thought, “Good job, Garrett. Your speaking skills are excellent. No major improvements necessary.” Instead, thanks to this setback, I was motivated to grow and improve.
Can you think of any Bible characters who failed miserably? How about Moses? Remember that time in Exodus 2 when he murdered an Egyptian and had to flee for his life? I’d consider that a major setback, wouldn’t you? Or what about David in 2 Samuel 11? Committing adultery with Bathsheba, orchestrating the death of Uriah, and later losing a child as a result? Those were some seriously dark days. Flip over to Hebrews 11, though, and you’ll notice that both Moses and David are listed as heroes of faith. Um, what? You see, they learned from their mistakes and God later did outrageously impressive things through them.
Here’s the deal: this isn’t just cheesy self-help advice to help us feel better about ourselves. Yes, we will fail spectacularly. Yes, we will disappoint ourselves and others. Yes, mistakes and the pain they bring are inevitable. But look at the big picture. There is legitimate value in failure. It reminds us of our weaknesses. It highlights opportunities for growth. It keeps our pride in check. And, perhaps most importantly, as Becky observed in another Come Awake post, it reminds us of our desperate need for a savior:
When we fail, when we are made aware of our sinfulness, we must respond with thankfulness. Yes, you read that correctly. We should be thankful for our failures and flaws, for every shortcoming. Why? Because they make us acutely aware of our great need for our Savior.
So stop sulking. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Failure isn’t the end of the world. It’s a gift.
Next time the doorbell rings, how will you respond?