May 22, 2019

Pastoral Nuggets: Failure – When Rock Bottom Becomes a Solid Foundation

Brother-Aaron-236x300There is within each of us, regardless of who we are or our station in life, the propensity to fail. At any given moment in time – failure is only one step away.

Our propensity for failure crosses all personal, social, moral, governmental, business, educational, and religious boundaries.

And there is not a person reading this article today who hasn’t experienced failure at some level.

But I want you to hear a truth about failure: As painful as it is – it is often our best instructor for how to be successful. Often, successful people and organizations become successful, not because they know what TO do, rather because they know what NOT to do!

Several years ago, in a commencement speech at Harvard University, author JK Rowling spoke about her life before she wrote her now famous, Harry Potter books.

She said, “I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded. I was jobless, a single parent, and as poor as it was possible to be without becoming homeless. The fears my parents had for me – and I had for myself – had both come to pass. By every usual standard I was the biggest failure I knew!  I had no idea then how far the tunnel extended – and for a long time any light was a hope rather than a reality.”

She continued, “So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life…”

She went on to say, “You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable.  It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

Finally, she said, “Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations.  Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way.  I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected.  I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies.”

Steve Jobs sounded a similar note in his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University as he described the pain of being kicked out of the company he founded, Apple.

When he and the CEO (Whom he had recruited) disagreed sharply over the future direction of Apple, the Board sided with the CEO and Jobs was fired. He felt humiliated and an utter failure. But like Rowling, it was an inadvertent blessing.

He said, “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

As a Christian, I find the perspectives of JK Rowling and Steve Jobs tremendously helpful. Like all human beings, I have experienced failure. My initial reaction is to deny that any failure has occurred and to get angry.

But the thesis of this column today is about receiving failure as a gift – an opportunity to gain a fresh view of myself, to honestly evaluate my strengths and weaknesses, and to focus on what God wants my life to be about.

Failure gives me and you the opportunity to turn rock bottom into a solid foundation upon which to rebuild our lives. I am convinced that the greatest lesson to be learned regarding being successful – is learning how to fail!

Brother Aaron

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