Failing Forward

I have found that often my life is identified by failure. I don’t know if I fail more than the average person or if the failures in my life permeate my memory while the successes (especially minor successes) seem to be fleeting moments in time.

Why do failures take center stage – even in the midst of great success?

My high school football career could be characterized as a tremendous success. I played on the Varsity team my 10th, 11th and 12th grade years. The team’s record for those three years were 39-6, and we finished each year playing in the state championship game. We won the state title in my 10th grade year, and lost in the title game the following two years. While most would describe this as a smashing success filled with many team accomplishments, my greatest memories are actually the failures that I and the team endured during this time.

I remember the blocked punt I had during my senior year. While it may excite many players to have a blocked punt, I am not excited by this since I was the punter. I remember that during our most successful season (My 10th grade year, where we won the state title) I endured the season with a broken leg. I broke my leg in three places during the first game of the season, and was not able to dress out for the majority of the season. I actually was only able to dress out for the title game, but was relegated to cheering on my team since my leg was not rehabbed enough for me to contribute as a player.

The memory that haunts me the most though is my junior year state title game. Our team entered the state title game undefeated and nationally ranked. We were ranked #2 on ESPN and #9 in USA Today. This year should be the source of several fond memories, but the memory that is most profound is remembering the feeling of failure as we stood and received our second place medals after the first loss of the season. The season felt like a failure, all that hard work, all those long hours in practice and in the weight room seemed to be a waste. Our season ended short of the goal, the expectation, for this team. This memory overshadows all the others – even though I was mentioned twice in USA Today in game recaps throughout the season.

Why does failure rule our thoughts and overshadows our successes? Is this a modern phenomenon?

Let’s look at the Bible to gain some perspective. Matthew 14 gives us some insight.

25 Between three and six o’clock in the morning, Jesus came to them, walking on the water. 26 When his followers saw him walking on the water, they were afraid. They said, “It’s a ghost!” and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus quickly spoke to them, “Have courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.”

28 Peter said, “Lord, if it is really you, then command me to come to you on the water.”

29 Jesus said, “Come.”

And Peter left the boat and walked on the water to Jesus. 30 But when Peter saw the wind and the waves, he became afraid and began to sink. He shouted, “Lord, save me!”

We often focus on Peter’s failure. We see how Peter takes his eyes off Jesus and immediately finds himself in trouble. He is needing to saved. His failure put him in danger and he needed help.

BUT – We often overlook the fact that Peter’s faith led him farther than any other disciple. Peter’s faith allowed him to take a step out of the boat and walk on water. Peter’s faith is greater than all the others who remained in the boat.

This faith, the one that leads Peter out of the boat, also puts him at risk of failure. The best part about this Biblical event happens next.

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught Peter. Jesus said, “Your faith is small. Why did you doubt?”

This faith led to failure, but this failure put Peter intimately close to Jesus. The Bible says Jesus was there IMMEDIATELY. Jesus was close.

While most of us are afraid to fail, we often stay in the boat. This fear is compounded by the overwhelming memories of past failures. I encourage you to let go of those fears and take a step of faith. Will you fail? Maybe. But when you do, you will find yourself closer to Jesus than you ever thought you could be.

One final thought.

Please take a lesson from my six year old. She has been learning to ride her bike without training wheels for the past year. She experienced failure after failure throughout that year. Every time she fell, I was able to catch her. This happened again, and again, and again. Last Friday, something changed. I don’t know what changed and I don’t know how it happened, but she rode for the first time without my guidance. As she peddled further and further away from me, I heard her yell with excitement, “I am officially riding it.”

Faith like a child – In that moment she forgot her many failures in light of her success and she has been riding her bike with this type of enthusiasm since. I would encourage you to do the same.

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