Monday, March 26, 2012

Perspectives on Failure

7th Grade. I got to school early that morning and ran to the gym. There on the door was a print out of the names that would be on the basketball team. For a few years I'd been going to basketball camps in the summer, my dad installed a hoop in the driveway, I played in the intramural league, but this was the first time I'd been tested in a tryout. I scanned the paper over and over again looking for my name as if by mistake they'd left it off. Nope. I tried out next year for the 8th grade team and made it. I worked hard during practice, but I spent all but 14 minutes of that season on the bench. I grew up a little when that happened- I realized that there were things I wasn't cut out for, that others were better at things than I was, and that I could fail at something I set out to do.

Fast forward over a decade later and I'm terrified of the same proposition. I joined the Army National Guard under an 09S contract- I enlisted on a fast track to be an officer. One small detail the recruiter left out is that the contract only gets you into officer school. You've got to pass it or you get kicked out of the National Guard or they make you serve out your contract as an enlisted solider. 90 people start each class in Texas. The average graduation rate is about 15. The fact is- as men we set out to do things, we want to do something exciting with our lives but I don't know to many that aren't afraid of falling short.

What we're afraid of boils down to a few key feelings:
  • Shame- the fear of what other's will think about you if you fail to do what you set out to do.
  • Disappointment- you've put your heart and dreams into an endeavor and to be unable to accomplish those goals feels devastating.
  • Loss of respect- who we are as men desires to be respected. So often we put our value in the things that we do and can accomplish- so when we fail to accomplish we fear we'll no longer be respected.
  • Not measuring up- that deep down fear that we'll be found out. That we often struggle to believe that we can even accomplish the things we set out to do. How horrifying it would be to be exposed as someone who falls short.
Let me point out to you the story of Moses. I'm pretty sure he went through all these fears. The future of his people was at stake. They had been slaves for 400 years. And now God- who spoke to him audibly and appeared as a burning bush gave him the mission of rescuing the people he hand picked to be his own. Read the story like you don't know what's going to happen next. Moses, who has already protested that he can't do this goes to Pharaoh and demands that his people be released. And things get worse. Pharaoh makes the Hebrews work harder and refuses to release the slaves. But wait- God told him to do this, he told him that he would be with him and Moses failed miserably! And instantly Moses feels shame, disappointment, loss of respect, and he was found not to measure up. This happens 11 more times. 11 times Moses fails to bring his people out of captivity. On the 12th time Pharaoh finally relents and lets the Israelites go. How many times have you chased after a dream repeatedly in the face of failure. Probably not 12 times.

We can get so wrapped up in the things of this world- the allure of wealth, status, and power, that often we view our successes and failures the way our coworkers and friends see it. Each of those fears listed above are fears that we have of our fellow man. Did Moses fail 12 times in the eyes of God? Absolutely not. Moses, in faith responded to God's calling and obeyed what the Lord commanded him to do.

We must realize our own personal story is part of something much larger. The book of Exodus is Moses' story, and it's a story about God rescuing his people. So many times I've heard people go so far as to say Scripture and life in general isn't even about us and it's only about God, but if that's the case he could have skipped everything after Genesis 1:25. He created us for relationship with himself and he cares about the intimate details of our lives, and he designed us to dream. Just look at Joshua 1:1-9, Jeremiah 29:11-14, and Matthew 6:25-34. The details of your life are important to God- even the "non-spiritual" ones like wanting to get your master's degree or run a 5K. And like a loving father, he wants to see you succeed in those things.

Trust that the fears we tend to have of failing are in no way the terms in which God looks at us. There is no shame, disappointment, loss of respect or love, nor does he see you as not measuring up. We have been made his sons. Co-heirs of the throne. In Wild at Heart, John Eldridge points out that God didn't give Adam an instruction manual or a checklist when he gave the command to go and subdue the earth. God created him to be capable and implied in his task is that God trusts him to do it. Think about that. God made you a steward of the planet he designed with the full authority to go into it and be creative, thoughtful, protective, and to enjoy it. You measure up because he made you that way. It has nothing to do with your performance. Your value lies in what he has already done for you, not in what you can accomplish.

Allow God to redefine your perspective on success and failure so that you're no longer overwhelmingly concerned with the successes of your worldly kingdom that we try so earnestly to build, but rather you see setbacks and disappointments as times when God is helping you to invest in a kingdom beyond this world.

You may also like:
The Merits of Setting Down Roots
Preparing for Family Expansion
Business Travel on the Up & Up

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