thegoodenoughpastor

Enjoying the freedom of being good enough

Archive for the category “Failure”

Sacred reality

I’ve been noticing in my reading of the Gospels that Jesus appears quite comfortable with reality–even when it gets messy and awkward. He doesn’t avoid, divert or deflect. He doesn’t put a spiritual spin on it. He’s never anxious or embarrassed.

Instead, Jesus allows life to unfold as it will. He steps in the midst of it and welcomes what is. It’s there that he does the extraordinary, and people are radically changed.

Real is sacred.

Case in point is the passage in Mark 9:14-29.

A desperate, distraught father brings his severely afflicted son to Jesus. It’s the man’s last hope.

He’s already asked the disciples to cure his son, but they struck out. A ruckus of theological debate breaks out as a result, and the tension is now running high.

I would have been looking for the nearest exit. I hate conflict. I could see no good coming of the scene being made.

At my best, I would have given Jesus an anxious look, letting him know he better step in and take care of this mess. The sooner the better, too.

Jesus doesn’t rush into action. He seems in no hurry to heal the son, nor relieve the father’s angst.

He simply asks a question. Then waits.

The father spills his story. He tells Jesus and the gathered crowd his painful secret.

Shame makes one keep their story of a demonized son silent. It’s best to keep such family secrets behind closed doors. We work hard to hide our shame, making sure no one knows.

But reality refuses to cooperate. Eventually life events converge and our secret leaks out. The cat’s out of the bag, and the father has little choice but to tell his story.

Just when it can’t get anymore uncomfortable, the son acts out right there on the spot. Right in front of God and everyone.

The son writhes and convulses. Dirt combines with spittle, smearing mud all over the young man. Shrieks add to the drama.

Jesus is unfazed. He doesn’t put an end to the scene. He doesn’t rush in to rescue the father or son. Jesus allows truth to spill out everywhere, for all to see.

No denying reality now.

The father can’t take it any longer. He begs Jesus to intervene. Just when we expect Jesus to save the day, one more bit of truth surfaces.

The father comes to terms with his conflicting thoughts and emotions. He confesses his doubt.

“I believe. Help me in my unbelief!!”

I imagine there were times when the man’s son was free from the demonic affliction. For days, perhaps weeks and months, all was calm. The father could conveniently ignore his son’s condition. Faith came easy. He had his theology and doctrine lined up straight.

But when your son is flailing and contorting and thrashing on the ground, saliva bubbling out of his mouth, streaks of mud on his face and clothes, screaming shrieks of anguish and obscenities—well faith tends to unravel.

Jesus lets it come apart at the seems. The father has an important confession to make. Miraculous intervention before the father has a chance to come to terms with his truth–before he wrestles with the reality of the paradox of faith–would be premature.

In due time, Jesus intervenes. The boy and his father are restored to wholeness.

A good deal of contemporary theology teaches us to minimize, avoid, deny and skirt reality. We invest much time and energy attempting to pray away reality.

We see it as an enemy.

We assume Jesus is uncomfortable with our reality as well. Shame convinces us we are unacceptable in our reality, so we opt for damage control and reality management.

We become heavily invested in our denial, self-protection and shame. We go great links to avoid acknowledging our truth.

It takes reality, real-life experience, to blow the covers off. Even then, we’re a hard sell.

But when reality comes, when we finally embrace what is real, we discover an amazing truth. Jesus is standing with us in the middle of it all.

Redemption comes.

The healing begins.

 

 

 

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.”

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