Getting Good at Failing

Getting Good at Failing

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If I’m honest, there’s not a whole of things that I’ve failed at in my life. I mean, not really. Sure, there were tests in school I didn’t ace and sports games where my team didn’t win, but in terms of really major screw-ups, I can’t point to much in my life.

But the times I have failed have been hard. Mostly because I’m not good at it. But the truth is, failing is a pretty basic part of life, and the longer I live, the more I’ll fail. Whether it’s at work, in a marriage or as a parent, I’ll never really get to a point where I won’t fail at something.

A few weeks ago at work I sent an email that I shouldn’t have, and it became a huge issue that had to be sorted out. Even though my intention was to simply respond to a question, in hindsight I didn’t communicate things the right way. And I felt like a huge failure. That situation was on my mind for weeks, and I kept going back to that one mistake in my mind, until it escalated into a way bigger deal to me than it was in reality.

But what if failing is a skill that we can learn? What if the more we do it, the more we learn how to do it well? It was easy for that mistake to define me and to determine how I felt about my worth as an employee. Not that any of us are looking for opportunities to mess up, but since they are an inevitable part of life, how can we learn from them and allow them to make us better?

That’s why I appreciate these words from Jon Acuff. It’s a note he wrote himself, and we could all use the reminder:

“Though fear tries to tell me otherwise, the truth is that the size of my failures will never eclipse God’s ability to redeem them.”

Whether you’ve failed at something really huge or something completely insignificant, isn’t it nice to know God can and does redeem all of it for His glory? And guess what. That failure that seemed so huge to me at the time turned out to be no big deal. It was a reminder for everyone involved to communicate better and more directly, but at the end of the day, I lost sleep and beat myself up for nothing.

But now I know that when I fail at the next work situation, or when I hurt my friend’s feelings or when I unintentionally say something hurtful to a guy I’m dating, I can look back on this example to remind me that I’m more than my mistakes. The thing about mistakes is that they can be an opportunity for growth, if we let them.

What have you learned from your failures? Are you good at failing?

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  • Honestly, I'm terrible at failing. Next to rejection, it's what I fear the most. Both tie into the fear I have that my best will never be good enough for anyone.

    Having my failures--especially in the romance department--redeemed by God is something I earnestly desire. But when it comes to my major failures, I'm still waiting for that redemption.

    The problem is some people--even other Christians--haven't given me the grace to fail and then learn from those mistakes. It makes it difficult to not let those failures define me. I need help with that.

  • There are few things in life at which I have truly failed, but being close to 30 without a job or my own residence, I feel like a failure every single day. So I guess I am not good at failing. I would love to have God redeem my failure to find employment, but there are so many other factors keeping me from work. Oh God, why can't you just let me use the talents that You gave me in the first place?

  • You can't really learn without failing a little -- and you can't really learn from your own failures until you acknowledge your part in the flaw,  take it to God, and then forgive yourself for it. That's when you can start taking steps to forgive others, ask for their forgiveness and process whatever it is that has transpired.

    I think sometimes we place a higher priority on trying to get the world to sympathize with us and placing the blame somewhere other than us than we do on real healing, or alternatively, we spend SO much time beating ourselves down that we miss the next good thing God is calling us too, because he could never use a "failure" like us.

    Everyone fails. It is how you process, own and move on from your failures that determine your character.  

  • @Nate thanks for sharing so openly. We're wondering, do you have trusted friends or mentors that are walking with you on your journey? Either way, you're welcome to call us (800/232-6459)  if we can help in any way. Blessings to you!

  • Maybe it's just me, but I cringe every time someone uses the word "failure" or "fail." I've known a lot of people who get so caught up in this idea of failing that they live in perpetual pity parties. When I hear people talk about failure, aside from this blog, I rarely hear it in the context of redemption. Failure has such a strong connotation and negative stigma, I just don't use that word.

    So I'll use the words "sin" and "mistakes." When I was in college, I used to overanalyze everything I did. I wasn't friendly enough to so-and-so, I should have talked to so-and-so, I should be faster at doing such-and-such. Bottom line: I was a perfectionist, and I beat myself up, telling myself I was an awful Christian because of these mistakes. But these mistakes I was beating myself up for WERE'NT sins (lol it had more to do with being socially awkward!).

    What made things somewhat worse was that we were told as prospective teachers to teach as though teaching unto the Lord. So my first year of teaching, I went into the profession believing that perfectionism was close to godliness. I believed that I had failed if I was not a perfect teacher. And through various circumstances, the Lord broke me of that perfectionism.

    So when it comes to talking about failure, I don't. When I sin, I repent and read God's promises of forgiveness. When I hear that awful voice in my head saying, "you're a failure," I often remember the lines of a hymn "Before the Throne of God Above" that says,

    "When Satan tempts me to despair

    And tells me of the guilt within,

    Upward I look and see Him there

    Who made an end of all my sin."

    But when I'm upset about things I've done that aren't sin, that's when I step back and ask God to forgive me of my pride and perfectionism. Ask for grace to be able to accept myself and see myself as God sees me. I read promises about who I am, His daughter. And I often read my favorite passage about being jars of clay--and rejoice in the fact that BECAUSE I am weak and imperfect, Christ shines all the brighter through me.

  • I know everyone fails. But I also know I have a tendency to fail at certain things over and over again. I've really been struggling with the balance of acknowledging everyone fails and knowing how to work on my own weaknesses. I don't want to dismiss my failure as just something everyone does but I also don't want to be to hard on my self. I definitely thing you can learn from your failures with one catch; you must LET yourself learn.

  • --BethFOTF - I'm not the only one who's been honest. I'm also not the only one who needs that number. Many people who comment here are the same as I am.

  • --Socially, my childhood was pretty hard. As hard as it was though, it built a lot of resilience into me. I think psychologists would call it, "grit."  Whatever it is, failing is pretty easy to deal with for me.  

    The struggle though is that when we fail, it's easy to depend on ourselves to get through it when we really need to turn to God.  It's a lot easier to turn to him when your whole future's going down the tube than when you've just made a "small" mistake.  Christ gives us the strength and the freedom to confront our mistakes head on though.

    That gut-wrenching feeling you get when you completely mess things up is rooted in the belief that if you mess up, you must be bad as a person. The Cross says, "Well, yeah, your sin nature made you rotten, but Christ has covered that. God still loves you, and your identity is in Christ now."  That's true freedom right there.

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