Our Response to Failure

By Marjorie Foerster Eddington

Let's be honest with ourselves: we don't like to fail. Many of us do everything we can possibly do NOT to fail. Some people fear failure; others try to avoid failure by not doing anything that would end in failure; others crumble under failure; many simply don't know how to deal with failure. But others, many of whom have made incredible contributions to our world and our lives, have learned that failure is not necessarily an awful thing. Take Thomas Edison, for example: he failed many times in trying to create a light bulb. But instead of quitting, he saw each failure as a way not to design it again. He tried different experiments. And now we have light bulbs and a lot of other innovations that we consider commonplace.

So how can we not fear failure? How can we respond to failure in a productive, positive manner that enables us to move forward?

  1. Remove undo pressure. Put things into their proper perspective.

Sometimes we put undo pressure on ourselves. We place too much emphasis and significance on a single performance. We base our happiness or misery on the outcome of certain events -- getting accepted into college, finding a job, receiving a raise, making the team, or dating the right person. Granted, some things are really important to us. But we need to be able to put them into proper perspective.

What if we fail to obtain the goal we want? What then? The situation might seem really bleak. We might feel totally devastated. We might think there's no hope. Will this one situation truly ruin our lives? We might be tempted to think so. But as with everything else, we have a choice. We can choose to fold up and quit, or we can choose to move forward.

And there's really no choice: we move forward. Life still goes on. The earth still moves about the sun. And … God is still God. We can always do our best to glorify God. The whole point of any activity is to glorify God. So we were passed over for a promotion, didn't get into the college we wanted, or got dumped by our significant other. Just think about this: God always has something good in store for us, so there must be something better, even more wonderful waiting for us. We just need to take advantage of the opportunity, which some might call a failure, to see where God is leading us.

  1. Recognize that failures can be some of the best opportunities.

Just because we fail at something does not mean that we are failures and that all of our opportunities have come to an end, even if we feel that they have.

  • We can look at each situation as a learning opportunity. We can see how we can improve and take the necessary steps to do better.
  • We can understand that failures are not necessarily mistakes. Experiencing failure in one area is often an indication to try something new.
    • Maybe we should have a different major in college or work for a different company.
    • Maybe we shouldn't be in a relationship with a certain person.
  • We can do what the prophet Isaiah tells us to do: "Shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem: loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion" (52:2).
    • We can shake off any of the negative feelings we're experiencing as a result of a messed-up performance, action, or event just as we shake off dust.
    • We can free ourselves from whatever thoughts are limiting and enslaving us, such as feeling that there are no more opportunities, that we can't perform well, that we'll never have what it takes.
  • When you fall off a horse, you get right back on.
  1. Live in the moment. Respond to the now.

It's a lot easier to "get right back on" when we don't trap ourselves in the past or paralyze ourselves with fear of the future. The wisdom literature in the Bible tells us, "That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past" (Eccl 3:15). This gives us the courage to let go of the past and to trust God with our future, which leaves us only one place to live -- in the now. Paul tells us that "now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (II Cor 6:2).

Living in the now is very important for excelling at anything.

  • The now is really the only moment in which we live, the only moment to which we can respond.
  • The past is already gone, and if we keep mulling over it, we miss out on the present.
  • If we try to avoid something in the future, we base our actions upon assumptions and fears.

And it's the future -- how people will judge us -- that usually worries us. If we are fully living in the now, we're not thinking about the outcomes or future possible mess-ups. And we're not afraid that somehow God isn't in charge.

  1. See the blessings.

We can remember that failure isn't permanent. It's often a stepping stone to something larger than we envisioned. God has envisioned a wonderful life for us. But we won't be able to hear God's voice giving us the best answers and pointing us in the best direction if we keep track of our failures and focus on them. So when it seems as if failure has come in to tell us we can't reach our goals, we can refuse to get caught up in all the negative feelings that would rob us of our joy and make us forget the good we've already experienced.

Instead, we can rejoice and say, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Phil 4:13). This is actually a very humbling statement, for it means that we're relying on the Christ, and not just ourselves, to accomplish whatever good needs doing. How freeing! This humility, in turn, gives us courage and confidence to move forward with God's plan, even if we're not sure what it is any more. And if we're not exactly sure what we're supposed to do, we can certainly find hope in the knowledge that God is leading us. There's no need to fear the outcome because God never fails:

Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. (Deut 31:6)

So as we're faced with what many people call failures, instead of feeling defeated, we can respond to God's guidance and see and experience blessings.