“But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. ‘Save me, Lord!’ he shouted.”
Matthew 14:30 (NLT)
How you define failure may hint to the way you feel about yourself. A generic statement, I know, but I want to start this article out with a question. To you, is failure the end of the road, or the beginning of a new journey?
I failed two months ago when I broke up with the girl I’d been dating for a little more than seven months. I failed to communicate well and I hurt my friend in the process. The pain of making that decision, and the consequences since, has given me a little more insight into failure, pain, and healing. Though I felt like the decision to end the relationship was right, there are things I wish I could’ve done differently. It was the hindsight of these failures that the pain hit. Granted, getting over someone is never easy. But I believe the pain of failure goes further than relationship failure. Some of you have failed in relationships; some of you have failed in finances. We feel like failures when we fall to a sin we said we could overcome. Choose your failure, because I can bet everyone has at least one.
Have you ever felt like the decision you made had a greater impact on your life than you thought it would? When I broke off the relationship, I was burdened with deep regret, not for the decision I made, but for the pain I caused. Out of that pain came guilt. I began to believe I made the wrong decision. It seemed like every time I thought about what happened and the choices I made, I was burdened with a deep, heavy aching. This feeling affected my mood. I could not look forward with hope because I was so bogged down with a burden of my past, ashamed of the pain I caused. I needed healing.
Before I share about what I learned in healing from this wound, I would like to share about the incredible gift God gave me. Four months before the break-up, I underwent surgery. It required making a very large and painful wound on my body, one that has taken a long time to heal. As I write this, it still is not healed. Back to my break-up scenario, the first thing I realized about it was that I was suffering an emotional wound that ran parallel with my physical wound. When I was going through the deepest pain of my breakup, my physical scar from surgery ironically tore open. Both processes of healing were in a painful season. And as my emotional state began to stabilize, so did the healing of my scar. God gave me the gift of a physical meter to measure the emotional healing that was happening within. And through this process I have realized some things about failure.
Failure will trigger one of two responses. It will force us to put our sails up, or our anchors down. I’m using the metaphor of a sailing ship because that was how I felt in my deepest of pain. I felt like I should have been sailing forward but I was chained to the ocean floor by a heavy anchor. When failure strikes, we either freeze in terror, or we try to move out of that failed zone.
What is the failure you have experienced? Did it make you freeze? When we freeze in response to failure we find ourselves stuck looking back and assessing the failure. How did it happen? Was it my fault? What could I have done differently? These are good questions to ask; however, we are anchored in place because of our answers to these questions. Was it my fault? Yes, and now look at what pain I’ve caused. Can I ever do anything right? The second question pits you against yourself. We feel a need to speak negatively of ourselves as a disciplinary action for what we did. And our immediate response to being anchored by failure is to make blanket statements. I’ll never get over her. I’ll never fix this. I’ll never get this process right. Such and such will never happen now…
These blanket statements restrict our ability to look forward, away from the failure. They restrict our ability to hope. When we anchor ourselves in our failure, we keep ourselves from moving. Since there is no motion, we are forced to not only recognize our pain but also dwell on it. Dwelling on failure is not dealing with failure. The danger in dwelling on failure or pain is settling into that failure or pain. Because we are not able to feel hopeful, because the pain keeps us prisoner, we settle into the pain and begin to believe this feeling is going to be the new normal for our lives.
A second danger that occurs when we react to failure by putting our anchors down is that we have an inactive hope. It’s that hope that if I wait long enough, the pain will go away. I call this inactive hope because it is a belief that if we do nothing, the pain will vanish. Time heals all wounds, or so they say.
But here is the secret to time. Time does not allow us to remain motionless. It forces us to move forward. Time is linear; it is in motion. And if we have anchored ourselves and settled into our failure, we will move forward through time, but that anchor pulls the failure with us. When you strap a backpack on and then go for a hike, do you expect the backpack to stay at the location where you put it on? No, it’s literally hanging over you. Anchoring ourselves in failure causes us to settle into that failure, and that failure settles into us. It becomes the backpack.
The second way we can react to failure is to put our sails up. Like the first reaction, we must recognize the failure. If we stay within the sailing analogy, if the boat isn’t moving, a sailor must assess why that is and make course corrections in order to catch the wind. Here is the key, action. Like a sailor must pull the sail up and be active in getting the ship to move, when we hit failure we have to recognize that it is a chance to take a step into healing. After recognizing, we have to take steps toward change.
Hope is active, not inactive. It requires movement. Staying anchored in place give the pain a power to continue to inflict its guilt and shame on us. That pain must be dealt with, or worked through. Be careful however to not dwell on the failure, for that is where the anchoring occurs. Once the pain is dealt with, we have to let it go. There is nothing that can be done about the past, but we can choose to change our response to it.
The first step in overcoming failure, at least I’ve found it to be for myself, is to forgive yourself. Like I mentioned earlier, dwelling on failure will turn you against yourself. For the days I went through that intense period of pain, I was unwilling to forgive myself for failing. It was like I was holding on to the pain, allowing it to linger because I felt like I needed to make myself pay for what I did. I had to suffer. But here is what I realized: I was not getting any better. My condition was not going to improve when the only words I could speak to myself were negative. The only power my pain had was the power I’d given it.
In order to move on from failure, you must first desire change. That may sound simple. You ask me “Who wouldn’t want change after failing or being in pain?” Nevertheless, this step is incredibly important because if you want to move forward, you will do what is necessary to sever you from the failure. You will forgive yourself. Forgiveness is the action of disassociating yourself from the failure. It takes saying, “I’ve failed, but that failure will not define me.” So when the shame comes, you can stand for yourself against it and fight through it as a whole person. You can recognize that the failure is an event of the past, not a condition you have to carry the rest of your life. Hope is an action that faces the past and says, “You are not my future”. Setting sail takes motion in the direction of the future.
I love the story of Jesus walking on water. In Matthew 14 the disciples of Jesus find themselves in a boat that is being tossed by the raging storm around them. Jesus walks into the scene, literally, walks on the water up to the boat. And he calls for Peter to join him in the maelstrom.
“So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and waves, he was terrified and began to sink. ‘Save me, Lord!’ he shouted. Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him.”
Matthew 14:29-30 (NLT)
Peter sank when he took his eyes off of Jesus. Failure has the capability of tearing us from our vision of the future, from what the Lord may be trying to teach us, or from the steps we had been taking toward a goal previous to falling short.
Peter’s reaction, in this case, is an example of setting sail. Instead of sinking, and telling himself “you took your eyes off Jesus, and now you must pay the price,” he reached out for help. This action of reaching out is an action of active hope. And the Lord responded to that hope.
When I realized I was not getting anywhere in the healing process after my breakup, I reached out to God. I understand that the following may sound cliché, but sometimes the truth is so simple it gets mixed up with clichés. When I reset my focus on what God was teaching me through the pain I realized that He had never left my side and was ready to grab me out of my waves of pain. Failure can feel like the end of the road, but God uses it as an opportunity to rush in and pull us back into His plan.
I am no longer ashamed of the mistakes I made because this experience has given me a chance to be pulled up into the arms of Christ that I would not otherwise have. It has taught me that my hope for a future is not resting on the decisions I make but on the promises of Christ. No matter the pain, the love available is so much greater. But I had to relinquish my thoughts of how my relationship would turn out. Resetting my eyes on the promises and truths about who Christ is, and remembering who He has created me to be, I put my hope in those truths.
Moving forward from failure is a process. It is not as simple as all of a sudden being at peace with the past. Coming to terms with the consequences and outcomes of failure takes time, energy, and cannot be done without the support from others. But most of all, failure can be a chance to reset your vision on the plan God has for you. Here lies a chance to reevaluate who you are and what actions you need to take to grow and become the person you desire to be. By processing through the shame and rebuilding your hope on what is true, you can rise above the pain and heal. Growth takes learning from failure as well as from overcoming it. From failure comes a new season to a new journey. Will your journey be one with a backpack of shame or one headed toward hope, free of the anchor chains?
Is failure the end of the road, or a chance to put up your sails and move forward into the future?
“I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the Heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”
Philippians 3:12-14 (NLT)
Refocus, Reevaluate, Reset
Thank you for reading what I have learned. If you would like to share any wisdom you have learned, please comment below. If you know of someone who could benefit from this post, feel free to share it. May the Lord bless you and show you that no failure will ever take you from His hands.