Lately, I’ve been reflecting on my past, particularly with my career and my relationships. I was a youth pastor for about 10 years, but not a “successful” one by any means (if you are looking at numbers, particularly). I have been a worship leader at my church, but never a “successful” one by standards that I would use to measure success. I had one long-term boyfriend, but have only dated inconsistently in the past 10 years. Even at my job with the school system, I have never quite gotten up to the level that others think I should. I often look back at my life and see that it is riddled with failure in these two areas. And of course, my two biggest concerns are whether my business will succeed and whether I’ll ever get married. I’ve experienced enough defeat in these areas to last a lifetime.
Failure comes in many forms: rejection, watching others succeed in areas where you didn’t, trying new ideas that don’t work, outright defeat. But even with its different looks, failure can be an emotionally healthy habit, if we can remember these three things about failure in our lives:
- Failure is inevitable. Everyone fails at something, because failure is a part of life. You don’t get every job that you apply for, you don’t date every person that you want to date, and you don’t get picked for every team you want to be on! From the beginning, we are destined to experience failure and suffering. Jesus said in John 16:33, “In the world you will have tribulation.” This means that I should expect failure, honestly. He didn’t say that we might, He didn’t say only some would—He said that we all would experience tribulation, and that includes failure. God knew that I would experience a lot of career failure, and He knew that I would experience failure in my relationships. And once we accept that failure is a normal, natural experience, we can move forward.
- Failure does not define you. Failure is not who you are, it is what happens to you. I have failed at many endeavors, but that does not make me a failure. I have received many words of encouragement from former youth, people who felt God’s Spirit in worship experiences, and friends who felt loved by me. I know that the Lord used me in many of these instances to bless others, even if the overall impact was less than I or others expected. In addition, I realize that my identity is not tied up in the things that I do—which means that failure does not determine my identity! My identity is instead wrapped up in the person of Jesus and everything that He says that I am—and Galatians 3:26 says I am a child of God—through faith, not success!
- Failure is a great teacher. Romans 5:3-5 says, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” When we fail and suffer, we learn a great deal about endurance, character, and hope. We develop wisdom through failure that we cannot learn through success. (I guess this means I should be really wise!) In addition, God uses those failures to encourage us and others. What have I learned from my failures? That I am a great administrator; that I work better with adults; that I should not compromise what I’m looking for in a mate. As such, my failures have contributed to me knowing my passions and purpose just as much as my successes have.
Some of the greatest successes have come because of great failure, and in order to be greatly successful in God’s Kingdom, we must understand that failure is unavoidable! But once we accept that and reject the idea that failure defines us, we can learn from our failures and thus grow in our emotionally healthy habits!