When was the last time you failed at something? Did you truly fail or just stop trying?
In my work, I ask students to recall failure as part of our now-common virtual interactions. When middle schoolers or high schoolers answer, they usually reflect on a major test or quiz. When college students answer, their responses are more mixed, as experiences at that age are more diverse. Some speak of an entire course, while others venture into explorations of failed attempts at making a team or becoming a part of a group. We then talk about what we learned from failures and how weaving past mistakes into our approach can equip us for future success. These are all from a perspective we see commonly spoken about in our world today.
Justification through Jesus
We like to think of failures as events in the past and qualify them with quotes such as, “If we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.” Many Christians can resonate with the “two kingdoms” distinction. Lutherans in particular understand it to mean that God’s reign is active both in the Church and in the world. What is “failure” or “success” in the eyes of the world is not always so in the eyes of God, for when He looks at us, He sees Jesus.
We have great confidence in knowing that “a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16).
Failing Forward with Faith
One of my greatest failures, which I know God alone got me through, was when I was in housing court for a pending eviction. In my eyes, though I was unemployed due to layoff, it was a failure because of the extravagant lengths one goes through to get a one-bedroom with city views at an affordable rate. Navigating the NYC court system and financial assistance programs was tough. What I learned through the process was how important it is to diversify your skills and experience so that even when your “main gig” does not allow for you to work, you have options to support yourself. I also gained a deeper knowledge of city systems and assistance programs, which put me in a better position to walk alongside those I serve in a more informed and meaningful way. I “failed forward” because of the mistakes I went through. In the end, I was closer to being an expert than before. This was the first time I have been in the situation, and I want it to be my last.
Failing forward when we’re with Christ allows us freedom to walk boldly in the truth that when we are walking in alignment with the will of God, He has our back. One of the most comforting ways you can relate to a person who is truly struggling is with love. Whether that struggle is moving from a failure to pass in a tough course; finding new ways to make ends meet during economic crises; learning different perspectives on the issues that temporarily divide our country; or talking through tough relationship issues with a spouse as an outsider, we can comfort with love. We are called to bear one another’s burdens, which can happen through listening, sharing time, and encouraging. From God above we receive perfect love, and perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). This includes the fear of failure. So go boldly failing forward, improving and learning as you go. Thanks be to God for His forgiveness, His power to change hearts and minds, and His resilience in loving us as sinners and saints.
With faith, we can have the courage to fail forward.