Tuesday, November 11, 2008

When We Fail

If you have any responsibilities at all, sooner or later, you'll fail. Sometimes, it might be sooner and more often than we'd like.

Sometimes, our failure is measured by an outcome - when we're unable to complete a project on time or when we're not fulfilling business objectives. At other times, failure might happen when we don't measure up to an ethical or behavioral standard. For instance, we might find ourselves becoming angry at a colleague during a meeting or perhaps we realized that we didn't give our best effort on a project.

My question is - what do you do when you fail...when you mess up...or even when you sin. My area of weakness? Impatience and anger... I can become impatient when others don't perform at the level I expect them to... and sometimes I get angry. A few weeks back, I found myself very impatient in relating to a colleague and actually getting angry because I judged him to be unresponsive to my requests. By God's grace, I was able to apologize and ask for his forgiveness. I was grateful for his willingness to forgive my impatience but I found myself discouraged and embarrassed that I had failed in this way. Sure, I know that failure is inevitable but somehow, knowing that doesn't make it much easier, does it?

More importantly, how should we respond to our failures?

I think it's helpful to bear in mind that we're not defined by our failures any more than by our successes. God is not impressed with our completed projects or business accomplishments. We cannot relate to him on any basis other than the work of Jesus Christ. We approach him as sinners, having received grace from Christ alone.

We can and should also humble ourselves when we sin. It may be hard to ask for forgiveness when we get angry but as sinners who have been forgiven much, it's the right thing to do. When we humble ourselves, the Bible assures us that God grants favor to us.

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble". (1 Peter 5:5)

When we humble ourselves, God will redeem even our greatest failures... somehow, we might end up showing those we work with, that we're no better than they are... we can approach them as fellow sinners, in need of grace.

Humility also helps us to examine ourselves - we can honestly evaluate our performance. Perhaps we failed to do our best because we were lazy or maybe our failure is just a reflection of our limited gifts and abilities. In either case, we can trust God to help us - to direct us to a better way.

What do you think of leaders when they fail? How do you cope with failure? How do you respond when you sin against those you work with?


Ted M. Gossard said...

Great post, ESI.

I think we have to be sensitive and deal with it as soon as possible, of course. If something is bothering me as to what I've done, then I want to get it out on the table, and that usually involves asking for forgiveness.

This reminds me of something very vague in my mind. D.L. Moody did something- maybe said something to someone maybe in disgust or anger. He proceeded to preach, but interrupted his message to ask forgiveness to the one he had offended. (this is my memory stretching way back I'm afraid, and how stories not quite true get started, but I think something like that).

What matters of course is for people to see the grace of God in Jesus, not that we are outstanding, or some kind of special Christian which of course is a lie.


Red Letter Believers said...


I love to talk about how to succeed, my great accomplishments, and all the wonderful things of life.

But failure IS a part of life and your post is a great reminder of how to act despite the inevitable.

Thank you

mark said...

have we not rehearsed failure long before the collision of actions, decisions and words?
have we not rehearsed the path toward failure with attitudes, usually those that are self oriented, that do not bear resemblance to the fullness of Eph3:19.
do we go beyond asking forgiveness to target our rehearsals or meditations to recognize that we have been commanded the preventative solution by meditating on His word day and night, having His word on our lips, etc?

Real Live Preacher said...

quite a counter-cultural thing. Failure might be an option in our culture, but not one we feel we should talk about.

Sometimes I'm wonder about all the people who lose in sports. Every winner means at LEAST one loser. Unless it's golf and then it's about 100 of them. More people lose than win. It would seem to me that it's more critical that we figure out how to lose well.

Every Square Inch said...

Ted - love the comment and story...even if it is faint in your memory.

RLB - I know we fail in big and small ways all the time...it's good to be able to view it redemptively

Mark - I understand what you're targeting with your comment about preventative measures. I'd like to say I won't fail if I perfectly rehearse preventative practices but it's simply not true. I am weak, faulty and failure is commonplace in my life.

RLP - counterintuitive indeed! The paradoxes and ironies in Christian living is fascinating, beautiful and inspiring.

L.L. Barkat said...

I feel like I fail all the time. But I also succeed. And then I pray that the good things might still be good and work good and be experienced as good by others, despite my dark side. If I didn't think this way, I might just go crazy.

mark said...

ESI- agreed.
in clarification and more along the lines of RLP "learning to lose well":
the post was not meant to suggest an unattainable ideal, but rather to suggest that where and how we start along a path, and how we initiate each step along the path constrains the initial step and cultures each successive step in such a way that while we will fail, if we wrap everything in repentance and humility, we fail still but what people see is a failure to love successfully, accurately, precisely and fully- not a failure due to an initial self advancing position.

If the above is true then perhaps people will see our failure not as sin against them but as incompleteness. Deficiencies will be identified and we will gather people together, drawing upon criticism being redefined fuller than before.

Deb said...

How are we certain that our failures are bad? Absolutely, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. So, perhaps are failures are good in that they 1) keep us humble; 2) give us opportunity for growth; and 3) give us the opportunity to tell someone else that we are sorry for our failures because they betray our Christian beliefs.

I've been thinking this week about how people are afraid to try for fear of failing. None of us like to mess up, but the alternative is doing nothing and playing it safe, which isn't following in Christ's footsteps, either.