In the 8th grade, the other wrestling team burst into laughter when I got on the scale in the locker room in my tighty whiteys because I was so skinny.
In the 9th grade, I shaved stripes into my eyebrows so that I would look more like Vanilla Ice.
In the 11th grade, I got dumped by a girl in a coat closet of a dance at the Polish American club in Worcester, Massachusetts.
In college, every frat rejected me.
I’m no stranger to failure and it’s many flavors, but what about you?
What if you fail?
What if that thing you want to do, just bombs? What if you get embarrassed? What if you leave a safe job for a new adventure and it’s all a big mistake and you regret every stupid minute that you thought you could do it and you end up gaining a lot of weight because you’re unemployed and eat macaroni and cheese for breakfast? (My summer of 2001.)
We worry about and that makes sense. I know right now, that if you’re like me, you wonder if you’re really doing what you were designed to do. You wait for the weekend and wonder if there’s a job where that wouldn’t happen. You wonder if there’s a mission or a goal or a journey you’re supposed to be on right now because such a small percentage of who you are, who you really are deep down is getting used at your day job.
And you think about trying something new, but that voice comes back in and you wonder,
“What if I fail?”
I wonder that too. The Stuff Christians Like book comes out in April and I sit down at night with my wife and talk about it not selling. At all. People have said that. Smart people with pleated pants and straight teeth have told me Christian humor books never sell. And I worry about that, about failing.
But I think as Christians, we have a duty, a responsibility, a call from on high to look at failure differently. So in the last few weeks I’ve come up with 3 new ways to answer the question, “What if you fail?”
1. I will fail gloriously.
From here on out, I want to be OK with failing at glorious things. I would accept the possibility of failing at something holy and of God. Having failed at many gross things in my life, I was not willing to see holy endeavors as the same. If I didn’t cross the finish line on a God mission, I would fall down in the assurance that I had taken one step. Or ten steps. Or a thousand steps. And even if I failed, I had failed at something glorious.
2. It’s too early to determine failure.
A friend recently asked me to consult on a business he started. He was frustrated it wasn’t growing. There was a great sense of exasperation in him, until I asked him how long he’d been chipping away at it. He sheepishly admitted he’d only started the business 2 months ago. Sometimes we see failure because we look too soon at the results. We believe we serve a God who lives outside of space and time, who works out all things to our good, and then try to measure his hand against our calendar. It’s too early to determine failure. You don’t know if God is going to radically change a town you’ve never heard of 12 years after you’re dead because the ministry you started there and believed to be a failure reached one person.
3. It’s not about failure, it’s about obedience.
I know we can fail, technically I suppose that is true, but as Christians I think when we get obsessed with results we can easily miss something that is more important: obedience. That thing you did that seemed to be a failure, was it an act of obedience? Did you do it because, well that was just what you were supposed to do? Because if you did, if you obeyed and you trusted and you worshipped, even while the walls fell down on all your plans, I’m not sure that was a failure. As we’ve gotten better at incorporating the best business lessons and books into church growth and community development, I think we’ve lost sight a little that we’re ultimately held to a different standard. We’re held to a scale of obedience.
I don’t know what you’re thinking about trying right now. It could be a huge endeavor or something as seemingly small as reaching out to a neighbor to become friends. And you might “fail” by the world’s standards. But that’s a pretty broken measuring stick. I encourage you to fail gloriously, check your results against a thousand year scale and focus more on obedience than the outcome.
Let’s retire the idea of failure.