The Event of Failure
Today was a difficult day. Understanding the publication of these words will not follow for a length of time after this day that I am writing them, I am aware it would be more formal to write in a past tense. “I recently had a difficult day,” I could say. A true statement, yes, but a shallow one. It creates a distance between the hardness of the day and the words I am writing that does not really exist – not yet, at least. The truth of the matter is some days are difficult – today was difficult.
Nothing extraordinarily difficult happened today, mind you. As the evening went on, though, I found myself wearing down. The signs for me are frustratingly obvious: a shortened temper replaces grace, quick responses overtake thoughtful approaches, self-centered desires crowd a typically servant heart. The worst part, though, is the shame that comes when the house is quiet enough for me to hear my thoughts. I think back on how I handled the difficulty and, especially when I try to view things through the eyes of my two young children, I’m tempted to fall into self-loathing and guilt at the failure of it all.
Have you ever had a difficult day? Surely I am not alone here, right? I ask not to soothe my ego (okay, maybe a little) but to push back on the darkness. For me, the shame that follows moments of failure often brings isolation and loneliness. I begin to think I’m unworthy – that I cannot or will not measure up to the expectations that befall me. I know many people who are led by these feelings into the deep darkness of feeling unworthy of love, acceptance and forgiveness.
That’s a lie, though. The day may have been difficult. It may have been a complete failure. Therein lies the point.
It was a failure.
I am not.
“A failure is an event, not a person.” A previous pastor of mine used to repeat those words often. There is deep truth in them. Read Psalm 73:26 and Proverbs 24:16. Go ahead. Right now. Pause and read them. I promise they are better than anything I can say here.
What you will find is that we all fail. But we are not failures. Every time we fall, we need only to look up. Each moment is an opportunity to return to Jesus (Lamentations 3:22-23), and in that light each is a moment with the potential for holiness.
For the difficult days when you feel unworthy, may the invitation exemplified by this poem be the truth you cling to. You and I are worthy, friend, because He says so, and there are seats saved for us at the table of grace. - Jason Simon, Minister to Students
Love (III), by George Herbert
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lacked anything.
"A guest," I answered, "worthy to be here":
Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
"Who made the eyes but I?"
"Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
"My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
So I did sit and eat.