Failure. It’s instinctive to handle it poorly. At the start of any new year, it’s at the top of my list to review my recent past and to see what it will require to move forward. It’s impossible to see the future as a clean slate if I’m not at peace with my yesterdays.
What are the wrong ways to handle failure? There are at least two.
1. Underestimate it.
When I do, I fail to see it as God sees it. I minimize the size of it. I re-shape it to reduce it to something trivial when, in fact, it probably wasn’t. I might believe it to be such a small offense that I don’t need to confess it and ask for God’s forgiveness. At best, I ask for it casually like it’s no big deal.
When God’s Spirit convicts me, I am defensive. I remind Him that everyone has weaknesses. Perhaps I did it in secret and it was a sin of the heart. I reason that no one got hurt but I fail to see that the one who was offended was the only One who matters. I sinned against God. Fragile egos defend themselves. I fear I can’t survive the knowledge of my own depravity. Underestimating failures causes me to live with a calloused heart. I am not experienced by others as someone humble and gracious.
2. Overestimate it.
I fail to understand grace and believe my failure to be unforgiveable. I must first wallow in guilt, prove myself to be better than that, and convince God that I am sorry enough. My sin looms large and God’s mercy appears to be small.
My only experience with failures and forgiveness comes through the film of earthly relationships. Unfortunately, some people refuse to forgive. They are prone to forever remind me of my failures. I wear them like scarlet letters. I fear that God will do what my human counterparts have done. I make sure to punish myself with condemning messages before God has a chance to. Though I say I believe that He has put my sins behind his back, never to take them out again to accuse me, my heart tells on me as I fixate on my guilt.
Overestimating my failures feels like a holy response. It is anything but. It is a denial of God’s mercy. It is a denial of the purpose of the cross. It’s choosing to live in unbelief regarding everything Jesus promised when He died for my sins as if He was the One who committed them.
There is a right way to handle failure. Giants of the faith did it well and most of them came out with their faith in tact. Every patriarch struggled with failure. So did King David, King Solomon, and the Apostle Peter. Proverbs says, “The righteous may fall seven times but still get up, but the wicked will stumble into trouble.” For reasons such as overestimating or underestimating sin, the unrighteous can’t move past his mistakes. He carries them over his shoulder and the weight grows heavier as they accumulate over a lifetime.
What can I learn from my spiritual ancestors about the right way to handle failure?