You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. 1 Thessalonians 2:1
How you respond to a failure situation is a barometer of your strength of character. Failure is just as much part of life as is success, and the lessons you learn through failure help you mature and gain a perspective you would otherwise never know. I’ve never been in the bottom of a well, but I’ve read that you can actually see the stars from the bottom of a dark well.
Roger Bannister, the first man in recorded history to run a mile in less than four minutes, said that “failure is as exciting to watch as success, provided the effort is absolutely genuine and complete.” He’s right.
Take, for example, Janet Lynn, who won the bronze medal at the 1972 Winter Olympic games at Sapporo, Japan. Lynn, a five-time U.S. champion was favored to win the gold. Instead, she fell during her free skate performance and with her fall went her hopes for the gold.
She said, “When I knew I couldn’t win, I was very distressed and sad. I went back to the Olympic village, and I began crying and arguing with God, saying, ‘I wanted to do it for you, my nation and my coach. I feel like I am such a huge failure.” (Gary Klein, L.A. Times, Feb. 22, 2002, p. U9).
Then she began putting the whole thing into perspective. Lynn was and is a committed Christian. Paul wrote to the Philippians and said his desire was for Christ to be exalted in his body “whether by life or by death’ (Philippians 1:21). Reflecting on what God intended her to do she said, “I gathered myself all I could and thought, ‘Perhaps there was a bigger purpose to my skating, to show God’s love and express the gift for skating he gave me.'” And Lynn kept smiling. Admired by friends and competitors, she won the hearts of people who saw how she handled failure when her fondest hopes and aspirations slipped through her fingers.
Question: How do you handle failure? Some are angry. They are the ones who place blame for failure on others–the judges, the teachers, the business associates, or the world at large. They are losers. Some rise from their failure and eventually do succeed. Though she never won her gold medal in the Olympics she later won the World Professional Championship and influenced the change in how Olympic skaters are judged.
Some react to failure and blame themselves. They introvert a situation and instead of saying, “OK, this happened, so where do I go from here?” they relive and replay the drama over and over, being unwilling to put it behind and move on.
Some turn and run away or hide. We do this in different ways–quit, literally go into seclusion, run from a situation whether it is a game, a marriage, or a business, or do what Jonah did, run from God thinking that you can escape the mandate of reality. And some use the failure to see a new purpose for life, as did Janet Lynn.
A closing thought: Success has as many definitions as there are people; it means different things to different people, but failure has a common denominator. It means you fell short of your goals and expectations.
If you are God’s child, you have to view failure in a different light and framework. That God didn’t give you your gold or your dream doesn’t mean He has forsaken you. To the contrary, He’s the One to whom we turn with our heartache, our broken dreams and ambitions, and our failures.
Failure is a hard teacher, but through it we can learn to glorify God, or show the extent of our selfishness and ego. It’s all part of the spectrum of life. You may well learn more from your failures than your successes. Who knows?
Resource reading: Philippians 4.
- 1 Thessalonians 2:1
- Philippians 1:21