Successfully Dealing With Failure

A failure is an opportunity for growth but only if the failure is not seen as a permanent black mark against one's character.

When I was a kid, just about every school in Canada set aside a day in June for a Field Sports Day. Many schools still do. Every student participates, from grade one to grade nine. My school was no exception. Back then, there were clear winners in each event. First, second, and third. That meant there were hundreds of losers, by default. Those who failed to win learned the art of accepting defeat graciously along with the hundreds of other students who didn’t win that day. Those who weren’t so gracious in their failure to win earned the censure of their fellow classmates.

Only one honourable mention ribbon was awarded in each division, and those of us who were not athletically gifted strove to win that ribbon! I remember the year one guy in my division received that award. He was the clear winner in the losing category. Tom was born with a clubfoot, and he failed at every competition in the circuit that day. Not only did he fail, but he failed spectacularly! And Tom did so with an enormous grin on his face. He gave it his all. By the end of the day, he was covered in bruises, sweat, and dirt. The whole school cheered him on as he received his ribbon. I caught up with Tom decades later and learned he became a remarkable cyclist. He flourished in his chosen field of sports medicine.

Many schools have stopped awarding special ribbons to the winners on Field Day, believing that by acknowledging the winners, you lower the self-esteem of those who did not place. A nice sentiment that won’t serve those children well outside the confines of school. Learning to fail successfully is a lesson every child needs to know.

Failure is an opportunity for growth but only if failure is not seen as a permanent black mark against one’s character.

The senior pastor of a large church tells the story of a young leader who was under his jurisdiction. This young man had a great idea, but it would cost the church hundreds of thousands to implement. Although the Senior Pastor had some reservations, he gave the go-ahead. The plan was an epic failure. There was nothing morally wrong in the young man’s idea. And yet; the young man returned in tears. He was broken and deeply ashamed that his plan failed.

His leader asked him what he learned. The young man said, “I learned never to do that again.”

His mentor paused, the drawled. “Well, that would be a tremendous waste of the money we invested in your education.” He was referring to the major mistake that had been made and the financial failure that resulted. “So you failed? Well then try again.” You see, this pastor knew a thing or two about lessons learned through failure. Before he was a pastor, he ran several successful and not-so-successful businesses and took the lessons learned with him when he entered full-time ministry.

The young man did try again, and this time it was a success. He learned through the expensive tuition of initial failure. Failure is an opportunity for growth but only if failure is not seen as a permanent black mark against one’s character.

Proverbs 24:16 – “For the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.”

Learn from your failures, but don’t repeat them. As Solomon graphically puts it in Proverbs 26:11 – “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.”

Personal Application

Consider this truth as you look at your past failures. Both Peter AND Judas betrayed Jesus and both were crushed under the weight of their betrayal. Peter repented and turned back toward God, seeking reconciliation, knowing the love Jesus poured into his life over the three years they walked in ministry together. Although Peter never forgot his failure, he took full advantage of his second chance and was a changed man. Judas was extended the same opportunity as the gift of repentance is there for all. His fatal error lay in his refusal to turn over his failure into the nail-scarred hands of the One who can make all things beautiful in their time.

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All Bible verses attributed to the ESV version unless otherwise indicated.

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Until Next Week,

©2020 Katherine Walden

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