I Still Remember My First Taste of Failure
I remember the first time I really felt like I had failed in a big way. I was heading into my senior year, and I didn’t make the cheerleading squad after being on the Varsity for two years.
The worst thing about not making the squad was the total shock. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t make it since the coach kept asking me to demonstrate various jumps and techniques during the tryout period.
I remember staring at the list of those who made it, scanning the it over and over. I was baffled as to why I couldn’t find my name. It took several reads for it to finally sink in. I hadn’t made it.
My senior year suddenly looked completely different than how I had been imagining it.
As I blinked away tears and shrugged on a mask of indifference, my initial sadness was quickly replaced by embarrassment and humiliation. I had failed. I wasn’t a cheerleader anymore.
I had lost part of my identity.
That failure left a lingering taste of bitterness in my mouth, and to this day (I’m 44), I still feel the temptation to try to explain that failure away because it still kind of embarrasses me. Even after all this time, that first taste of failure still stings.
Sometimes Failure Is the Whole Point
For the past several months, I’ve been reading through the Gospels, and as I came to the end of Luke I came to the familiar story of Peter denying Jesus. I’m sure you’ve heard all the sermons too, right?
Growing up in church, I’ve heard a lot of sermons about this particular passage, everything from God’s grace to our fallibility as humans to the fact that satan can only get at us with God’s permission. But there was one thing I never noticed before – Jesus did NOT pray that Simon wouldn’t fail.
Is it just me or do you find that kind of strange? I mean, wouldn’t it make sense that Jesus would pray that one of His dearest disciples wouldn’t betray Him? Wouldn’t it seem logical that Jesus would pray that Peter would pass the test?
But passing the test wasn’t really the lesson. If you read those verses again, you can see what that lesson was supposed to be: “and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
It wasn’t some kind of huge surprise to Jesus that Peter was going to fail this test rather spectacularly. He TOLD Peter, “Hey, Buddy, I know you have good intentions, but the reality is that you’re going to deny me before the rooster even crows tomorrow morning.”
We Always Seem a Bit Surprised By Failure – But God Isn’t
Peter – the same Peter who a few hours later would whip out his sword and cut off a guy’s ear – couldn’t even fathom denying Jesus. Peter was a fisherman. He was probably big and burly, and he was more than a little rough around the edges. He was probably the guy you did NOT want to pick a fight with. He was brash and impulsive (see the ear thing above). He often stuck his foot in his mouth far enough to choke himself (remember when he rebuked Jesus for saying He was going to die?).
But Jesus knew something that Peter did not. He knew that in order to truly be a servant leader, Peter had to fail and fail big.
It’s not that God doesn’t want us to succeed, but the thing is, as much as we don’t like it, we often learn way more from our failures then we ever do from our successes.
God had big plans for Peter, but He had to get Peter into the right mind set. He had to impress on Peter it wasn’t Peter’s abilities or goodness or leadership skills that were going to make him one of the main leaders in the early church. It was ALL God.
What satan meant for harm, God allowed for Peter’s ultimate good. God allowed satan to sift Peter to get out the bits that were useless.
When farmers process wheat, the first step is sifting it or separating the chaff from the actual grain. The chaff is this kind of dry, scaly stuff that encases the seed or grain. It serves a purpose as the grain is growing, but it’s totally useless and renders the grain inedible once it is time to actually use the grain for food.
It was time for Peter to step to the next level, so God allowed satan to get to Peter. Satan’s purpose was to sideline Peter, but God’s purpose was to soften Peter.
The first thing Jesus prayed for was Peter’s faith
When we fail, it is easy to allow our shame over our failure to keep us from continuing to seek to follow God. After Christ’s death, Peter went back to fishing. He figured Jesus was dead and he was washed up as a disciple because of his failure. Jesus went and found Peter at the shore. He commissioned Peter to go and feed His sheep.
In our own lives this might look like not attending church or not reading our Bibles or praying since, you know, we failed so God must not want any more to do with us.
If that were the case, though, the Bible would be a whole lot shorter. If you comb through its pages, if failure was all it took to sideline God’s saints, there would be precious few on the field of play.
David basically forced himself on another man’s wife and then killed her husband to cover up his misdeeds. Moses killed a man and ran away to the desert, a fugitive. Jacob’s life resembled something out of Jerry Springer with his two wives and their maids. Abraham passed his wife off as his sister and tried to hurry up God’s plan by having a baby with his wife’s maid (and you can see how that turned out!).
Obviously, failure didn’t cancel out faith.
The Second Thing Jesus Did Was Give Direction for After Failure
Jesus told Peter, “and you, once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
Jesus knew, not only that Peter would fail, but that he would repent and return from that failure. Peter’s screw up probably gave him a lot more empathy for his brothers and their struggles.
Isn’t it the same in our lives? I remember being a young mother to a toddler son who talked in sentences when he was less than a year old. Not only that, but all I had to do was explain why he shouldn’t do something and he didn’t (of course, I now realize that isn’t the norm!).
I honestly could not figure out what was wrong with other mothers and their bratty kids. I mean – just explain it clearly? How hard was that?
Then I had my second son (you probably see where this is headed), and suddenly, all that false pride I had in my own mothering skills evaporated.
Simply explain why you shouldn’t do something? That guaranteed he’d smile and do exactly that!
Have a reasonable discussion on why he couldn’t do something or have something? He’d throw a flaming fit – usually in public – for maximum mother embarrassment.
I can’t tell you what an unbelievable failure I felt like as a mother as I walked through Kmart one memorable day, while Brody screamed the entire way because I refused to buy him a bouncy ball (because the poor child onlyy had about 100 in his collection).
Did I enjoy these times? NO!
But it certainly taught me a lot. It softened my heart toward other struggling mothers, and allowed me to offer encouragement rather than judgment. It stripped me of my misplaced pride and introduced me to some much needed humility. It made me rely on God for direction and discernment rather than my own perceived abilities.
To this day, I look at my boys and thank God for the work HE has done in their lives. I have a keen awareness that while being a mother brings great responsibility, the outcome isn’t completely up to us. It’s up to God and His plans, His purposes and His timetable.
Failure, no matter what that failure happens to be, has a way of turning our eyes off of ourselves and toward God – if we let it.
I’m not sure what failure you are carrying around with you or how you are allowing it to limit you and keep you from moving forward.
I do know that failure is not a sign that God is done with you. Rather, it might just be a signal that God is preparing you for something way bigger than you can imagine.