Failure as Spiritual Opportunity

This is the second in a series of posts on failure.

In my first post, The False Path of Failure, I reflected on some of the ways that fear of failure becomes an obstacle in our spiritual lives. I suggested that the good news is that though we are failures, God loves us and meets us in our failure. But let’s be honest, we have a hard time hearing that good news. Instead, when we face failure, we are devastated, discouraged, we feel hopeless. We wanted so much to feel like we are successful, but now we have failed.

Failure and identity

It’s hard to personally come to terms with our failure. We’ve fashioned a false identity of success for ourselves and now that false identity comes crashing down which has shielded us from the truth of reality. And we are terrified of the truth. What if we are a failure? What if we are worthless? How will we live with ourselves?

We may find ourselves taking on a new identity, a failure identity, one of discouragement and self flagellation, but that also is a false identity. And we may cycle from our success identity to our failure identity and then back again, never knowing our true identity.

There is a truth about our identity for us to discover. We are neither awesome successes or terrible failures. We are human beings, flawed and sinful creatures, but also beloved, gifted, children of God. That is the truth of reality; that is our true identity. God loves us and sees us just as we are, the good and the bad, the gifts and the flaws, the holy and the sinful. God always sees us as we truly are, in all our complexity, while we keep constructing false images or identities.

But when we fail, the Lord sees it as an opportunity to strip away some of our false identity and show us a glimpse of who we really are. God takes failure and turns it into an opportunity for good. In failure, we recognize our need for God. We turn to Jesus. We confess our frailty, or brokenness and our sin. When Jesus meets us he looks us straight in the eyes and pronounces us beloved. In the midst of our failure, we are invited to see ourselves through his eyes, to experience his love, his care, the truth about who we are.

What a gift! When we see ourselves truthfully, we can relax. We don’t have to strive. We can rest in being known and loved and accompanied by the living God, “for in him we live and move and have our being” -Acts 17:28

Failure and Shame

Failure is not only a personal thing, but it’s also a social thing. When we experience failure, we typically feel shame. When we fail, we want to hide from others because we don’t want them to see us as failures. Shame may be the thing we dread most about failure. Wherever failure goes, shame follows close behind

Jesus is not deterred by our shame; Jesus sees it as an opportunity. Jesus has borne the cross on our behalf, taking it’s shame upon himself, taking our same upon himself. We may want to hide in shame from him, but once again, Jesus looks us straight in the eyes and is not ashamed of us. He calls us friend. He lifts us up from the dust and restores our souls. He invites himself to our house like Zaccheaus. He touches us when we feel unclean. He smiles and welcomes us into his kingdom, where the last shall be first, where the meek shall inherit the earth, where the Lord is close to the lowly.

When we open ourselves to Jesus in the midst of our failure, Jesus takes our shame away. To be freed from shame is such joy. We may discover that through our failure we are now closer to Jesus.

Sometimes we are freed from shame and it never returns, but many times we experience it coming back upon us in the days to come. But having experienced Jesus embrace us in our failure, we now see that the shame is not from the Lord. It is a temptation, a snare of the evil one, who wants us buried in shame and back in our false identities. We begin to notice shame as it begins to work on us and we have the opportunity once again to open ourselves to Jesus, to let him meet us in the midst of failure.

If you struggle to open yourself to the Lord in the midst of failure, consider meeting with a spiritual director. In spiritual direction you can explore failure in a deeper way and find ways to let failure draw you close to Jesus.

Stay tuned for part three of this series on failure coming soon, as I explore the theme of abandoning ourselves to the Lord as a response to failure.

© Dale Gish 2019. All Rights Reserved.