4 Reasons Why Failure is Your Friend {final post in the series, “Grace in the New Rhythms”}

new rhythms title pic

Make friends with failure? It goes against everything our culture preaches, whether it’s from the pulpit or the newsstand.

We lampoon those who have screwed it all up and landed themselves on front pages and the nightly news. We give them their own hashtags and have a good laugh along with the late-night comedians. We think we’re better because we haven’t fallen so far. Or at least we haven’t done it publicly. And in doing so, we don’t know ourselves. We don’t acknowledge our appetites or our frailties. We don’t acknowledge our humanity, that we have come from dust and will one day return there.

And of course we’re all envisioning the epic failures — the professional athletes who cheat and abuse, the politicians who lie to us. We’re recalling the public scandals and the public figures who have launched them onto our TV screens.

That’s failure in an epic sense, right?

But what about the everyday kind of failure? What about the scorched dinners and the snapping at our kids that we regret as soon as they leave for school? What about failing our spouse because we’re more interested in the must-have information on our Twitter feed than we are in giving them our full attention? What about the bill we forgot to pay or the friend we’ve neglected? What about the absent-mindedness or disorganization that cost us something big?

And in case you’re wondering, yes — I’ve been guilty of all of the above just this week.

I specialize in the everyday failure — it’s like, a gift — and enough of it stacked against you will eventually begin to feel as big as the story splashed across the nightly news. We wither under the unacknowledged weight of our everyday shortcomings like my straightened hair withered under the heavy weight of that coastal humidity when we were trying to take a beachy family photo last summer. {hashtag epichairfail}

summer hair

And perhaps the diversion of someone else’s epic waywardness is a welcome diversion from our own. It’s just a theory.

I’ve spent my whole life avoiding failure, blame-shifting it onto someone or something else, denying it, or wallowing in it to the point of not being able to get out of bed. Failure and I — we have not exactly had a healthy relationship. The root of it is pride. I think too much of myself, plain and simple. Arrogance and self-loathing are flip sides of the same coin.

But lately there’s been a shift. I’ve decided to make friends with failure. I’m learning — so very, very slowly — about the blessedness of self-forgetfulness. And I’m learning that failure can be my life coach, my teacher, and even my partner in everyday hacks.

Let’s get to it.

1. Failure lives in the everyday lab where we learn and create. We try and we sometimes succeed. We try and we sometimes fail. Scientists do this for a living. Inventors do this for a living. Artists and teachers and strategists of all sorts — they try and then they try again because this is what we do as we proceed along the road of finding what works. We experiment. And we all know that in experiments, it usually takes a lot of wrong answers to find the right one. This is the creative business of living and of making a living.

2. Failure informs us and asks how we’ll receive it. As we move into a new season and seek to move into new rhythms, we surrender to the gift of trial and error. And it is a gift — if we choose to see it that way. I learn everything from when my brain is at its best for writing to what sort of things drain me so that I’m not at my best for those whom I love the best.

Will you choose to take note of what works and what doesn’t instead of sinking under the weight of your mess-ups and bad guesses? And will you choose to be grateful for the failures that inform you of ways to go about it differently in the future? That’s the beauty of trial and error — we get to choose how we receive it. We can be grateful or guilty. I’m trying to make a habit of choosing the former.

3. Failure reminds us that we are dust. When I mess up, I should sit down and have a big laugh. I usually don’t, but I should. Failure reminds me of my humanity. I am not God and it’s a good thing I’m not. I’m not perfect and I should quit trying to be. Often our failure isn’t intentional; it’s simply a by-product of our finiteness.

But sometimes we do know better. Either way, for the Christian, failure keeps us at the foot of the cross — acknowledging our need for repentance and forgiveness, grace and mercy. At the cross I find both a Savior and a friend, One who says It’s okay. This has been paid for and I love you! Let’s begin again, shall we? At the cross I find love that is lavish and unconditional. Is there any better place to be?

4. Failure makes us compassionate.  When we truly acknowledge who we are, we judge less and love more. We make friends with mess. We extend grace because we’ve first received it. When I am feeling extra-judgey toward someone else — which is often — I know I don’t have a proper view of myself.

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What does all of this have to do with new rhythms and new seasons? How does it inform our everyday hacks as we try to manage our days in such a way that things work and bless those around us?

Simple. Failure doesn’t issue condemning commands. It extends inquisitive invitations:

  • Yeah, you keep messing up at this one. Why don’t you find a friend to talk to? Perhaps you could use some accountability and encouragement in this area instead of trying to go it alone?
  • Okay, so this week you ran yourself ragged and now you’re exhausted and crabby with everyone around you. How can you find some rest and arrange next week’s calendar differently?
  • Well, that didn’t work but you tried. Let’s find a new angle. Or maybe just try again?
  • Yes, that was ugly. You know you shouldn’t have cut him to pieces with your words like that. Where do you need to go? To him and to the cross. True, it’s a well-worn path but it’s no walk of shame; it’s the road to restoration. 
  • That’s appalling, what that guy did. And yes, he deserves what’s coming to him. But consider his pain and consider the road that led him to this point. And acknowledge that we don’t ever truly know someone’s road. Besides, that could have been your road, but for grace, but for a million and one variables over which you’ve had no control. Be grateful and be compassionate. Condemnation accomplishes nothing. Pray for him. Pray for her. Pray for yourself. 

 

See? When we turn failure on its head, it becomes a gentle guide. We get to choose. And I freely admit that I don’t usually choose well, but I’m getting better.

This is what it means to establish new rhythms upheld by grace. It’s not about figuring it all ahead of time. It’s about forging ahead, knowing we’ll get it wrong a lot and knowing we’ll get it right sometimes too. It’s about living in the lab of the everyday and not being afraid of trial and error. It’s about trying anyway and knowing that grace is the safety net.

What if the greatest lessons, triumphs, and tipping points across your life are actually born out of failure — both your own failure and the failure of others toward you?

What if failure and disappointment could change you in the best ways far more than unending success every could?

I believe it’s possible because it’s the story of my own life and it can be the story of yours too. If you choose to receive it that way.

So will you?

Will you choose real life and redemption? Will you receive your own messy, disappoining, hopeful, beautiful life?

Let’s join hands and do it together.

Let’s make friends with failure.

Let’s walk the well-worn path of forgiveness, grace, and new beginnings.

holding hands beach

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This is the 5th and final post in a series, “Grace in the New Rhythms: The ‘Non-Guru’s Non-Guide’ to Running a Small Country. Or Your Family. Or Just Your Day. When You’re Not Very Good at It, Like Me.”

Here are the rest of the posts in case you missed them.

Grace in the New Rhythms. Part 1. 

Part 2. What’s Your Real Motivation for Wanting to Be Awesome?

Part 3. Know Your Own Life and Walk in Freedom.

Part 4. How to Manage Your Days When You’re “Type-ADD” Instead of Type A

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Thanks for joining me on this journey as we begin a new season and evaluate our everyday rhythms in the process. I hope it’s been helpful and encouraging. And I am always looking for real-life hacks that make the days and the tasks proceed with a bit more finesse and less gnashing of teeth. Share them with us?

Thanks for your generous feedback and grace to all of you as you seek to establish new rhythms and maybe even let Failure come along for the ride.

{I do have some helpful resources to share. I’ll put them in the next post.}

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Comments

  1. Mom says

    I’m sad. Sad that this series is ending. Since it is, I will just have to re-read, I guess.

    This one, this one today, is, in my opinion, one of the best things you’ve written. There is so much truth, wisdom, and “things I should emboss on my arm for ready access!” I get so much maternal pleasure from sitting at the feet of your writing as you dish out the truths I so need to hear. It is a gift. So are you.

    LYF,
    MOM

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