Failed? Who Hasn’t?
"He who has never failed somewhere, that man cannot be great. Failure is the test of greatness." - Herman Melville
Striking out with three men on base.
Forgetting a key phrase on a major exam.
Spending too much money on the vacation.
Dropping the pass. In the end zone.
Losing the sale.
Losing the girl. Losing the guy.
Being silenced by fear.
Caving in to the pressure.
Giving in even when your inner voice is saying, "Don’t!"
The spirit of failure is overbearing, oppressive, debilitating. Perhaps the only good thing we can say about failure is that we are not the only ones to have failed. Many others have. Everyone has.
One interesting thing about reading biographies is you get to see how other people have attempted something grand only to see their dream crash and burn. But, generally, the reason you are reading about their failure in a biography is that the person didn’t die with the dream. He either resurrected the dream, or found another one, and pressed on. Eventually, the subject of the book accomplished something significant enough that their story is now published and we are reading it.
Steve Jobs followed his dream, and it eventually led to his being ousted from the very company he started. But, he didn’t let anger, resentment or a sense of failure inhibit his dreams or abilities. He started another very successful company, and was later invited back to run his first love, Apple. Can you believe the iPod is the product of one who had previously failed?
Herman Melville may be right: "He who has never failed somewhere, that man cannot be great." Failure can teach us many things to prepare us for future service and accomplishments. For example, a man who fails can learn that he is not a failure. There is a difference between falling short of a goal, losing everything, making a huge mistake, doing something wrong, and being an irredeemable failure. The two are poles apart.
Peter walked on water, though not for long. When he took his eyes off Jesus, and paid more attention to the wind and the waves, he momentarily lost his heart and his bearing, and began to sink. "Save me!" he cried. Jesus did. "You of little faith," Jesus said. "Why did you doubt?" But, this rebuke of Peter didn’t mean Jesus rejected him. It just meant Jesus was continuing to prepare him for future service. Peter would experience some other slips and misstatements, but he would still be the one to throw the first pitch on opening day. "Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). God put one of the most bold statements in scripture in the mouth of one who, by some estimates, had struck out a bunch of times. But he never left the game. Failing doesn’t mean failure.
Failure can also serve us by affirming that we are simply members of the larger human family. We can expend tremendous effort in trying to impress people with our knowledge, correctness, or perfection. Why do we do that? Are we really that good, or are we trying to mask deeper insecurities and self-doubt? Realizing everyone carries the scars of past battles can free us up to accept ourselves and relate more honestly and humanly to people.
After his exposure by Nathan, repentance, intense grieving, and the loss of his son, David was a different man. Life was not the same for him as before, but life still wasn’t over. God let him continue to serve as king. Some of David’s greatest writing came after his failure.
We might not be able to relate to David as Conqueror-King, but we can all relate to the David who stared too long out the window. This is the David who penned, "Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me" (Psalm 51:2-3). This is the David we can relate to. This is the David God forgave and allowed to continue serving. This is the David who didn’t let a failing render him a failure.
"He who has never failed somewhere, that man cannot be great. Failure is the test of greatness." Get up. Look ahead. Keep going.