A failure in defining failure
“Failure is an education, not a judgment,” Donald Miller.
We are a people obsessed with measuring and quantifying. We believe they determine and measure success and, therefore, validation. If we can demonstrate that we’ve performed enough units of measure in the desired outcome, then we have succeeded. If we succeed, we have value and worth.
Measuring and quantifying allow us to compare ourselves with others. When we score high, we take a certain satisfaction that we’ve outdone others. Our value and worth elevates. This provides us with the much needed psychological cushion of being better than others.
But pity when we miss the mark. When our scores don’t measure up or others out-perform us, we’re left with the bitter taste of failure. Our worth and value plummet. Shame shrouds us like a thickLondonfog.
In that light, I find it interesting that Jesus comes through the back door when emphasizing value. In the Beatitudes, he promotes characteristics that we deem as weakness and failure.
“You are blessed when . . . you are poor . . . you mourn . . . you are meek . . . you are hungry and thirsty . . . “
Maybe what we see as failure is actually success in disguise.
I find this plays out in life experience. The character traits that we associate with spiritual maturity typically come through dealing with some kind of failure.
- Humility comes when we taste the reality of weakness.
- Grace comes through experiencing brokenness.
- Courage comes by facing our fear.
- Forgiveness comes by acknowledging our sin.
- Mercy comes after we’ve been hurt and betrayed.
- Mercy also come when we hurt and betray.
- Hope comes from embracing loss.
I’ve seen this demonstrated by people who have courageously allowed Jesus to restore their lives after catastrophic failure.
Sal and Terri (names have been changed) are great examples. They are good friends of mine and they give me permission to tell their story.
About 15 years into their marriage, this pastor couple saw their lives blow up in front of them.
Sal confessed that he’d had a series of one night stands with women he’d met online.
The news was like boiling oil scalding Terri’s soul. She wailed as she balled up in a fetal position.
It was no less painful for Sal. Shame, embarrassment, the knowledge he’d hurt so many gnawed on him relentlessly. Death would have been a welcome escape.
Their church was devastated. Bewilderment, grief and anger swelled in the congregation as they futilely attempted to reconcile the disclosure with their heretofore image of their trusted leader.
It was a shipwreck of catastrophic proportions.
But Jesus was just getting started in His restoration work. He began to walk Sal and Terri through the difficult, perilous road of recovery and healing.
Sal and Terri faced their pain head-on. Sal stepped into a level of honesty he never knew existed. He owned up to the pain his betrayal caused those he loved the most. He stayed present with Terri as she expressed her hurt and anger over what he’d done.
Sal ventured into the chaos of his childhood. Abandoned by his father and burdened by a needy mother, Sal had turned early to pornography to escape his pain. Sex became his avenue for validation.
Terri carefully waded through the difficult decisions of what she should do with her shattered trust and marriage. She courageously counted the costs. She allowed herself to fully taste her anger. She wrestled with the question of being able to trust Sal enough to stay in the marriage.
As she weighed her choices, she chose to commit herself to the process of forgiving Sal. She resolved to stay in the marriage and to make every effort she could to see it restored.
Together, Sal and Terri went to work on their marriage. They left no stone unturned. They examined the systemic nature of their relational style. They learned to more authentically express themselves to each other. They recognized past patterns of shoving certain issues under the carpet and committed to practicing more direct address with each other.
It’s not been an easy road for Sal and Terri. Old habits don’t go away overnight. The hurt and anger occasionally threatens their resolve. They can grow discouraged. But they haven’t quit.
It’s now been six years since Sal’s disclosure. Sal and Terri are still together. Their family is thriving. They report their love for each other is strong. They’ve learned what forgiveness, commitment, perseverance and faith are all about.
Are Sal and Terri failures? Certainly some would say so. They would point to Sal’s moral breech as a permanent disqualifier for a Christian testimony, and certainly church leadership. Some would shake their heads and wonder why Terri would stay with him.
But Sal and Terri demonstrate the essence of success as defined by Jesus. They know brokenness. They know vulnerability. They’ve walked through their dark side.
Precisely because of their journey of failure they’ve demonstrated what it means to follow Jesus.
In many amazing and painful ways they’ve successfully exhibited what forgiveness, mercy, perseverance, hope, reconciliation and repentance are all about.
As Rob Bell says, “When a marriage has been to hell and back, when a couple has gone through their failures and yet they’ve found a way to get through it and restore their relationship, to forgive and grow, now THAT”S a story.”