Lately, by which I mean the last six months or so, I have found that my mind has been drawn to failure. Particularly my own failures, of which there are no doubt a few. And if I can be honest, it has been a bit of a jarring and disorienting experience and has even at times induced a good deal of anxiety. Perhaps I’m not the man/husband/father/friend/pastor I thought I was?
Clergy especially are not encouraged to talk about our failures enough. I don’t have any scientific data on this but believe me, I spend a lot of time talking with other clergy, and if you were to get us all in a room first of all I would extend my sympathies to you and second of all you would surely come away thinking that all of these people are running the tightest of ships and that everything is going according to plan.
Of course, that’s rarely the case. So, why are we so afraid to talk about failure?
I want to suggest that whatever the reasons – and there are some good ones to be sure – ultimately we shouldn’t fear talking about failure. I’m not saying one should broadcast everything to the world but at the very least one should have a few trusted friends with whom they can have these sorts of conversations.
There is a principle among entrepreneurs that has to do with embracing failure. If you listen to the story of any successful entrepreneur what you will discover is a long history of failure from which they learned. In fact, they will likely tell you that they learned more from their failures than they did their successes. Tom Watson, the founder of IBM said, “to improve your success rate, double your failure rate.” Failure is valuable.
Moreover, we might say that failure is built into the Christian ecosystem. Sin is a type of failure, a failure to trust God. The Crucifixion is a type of failure, albeit one that reveals the wisdom and power of God. So too the whole mission of the Church is in principle caught up with failure. Take the Parable of the Sower for example. Much of the seed that is sown doesn’t end up bearing fruit rather it lands on the hard ground and the birds swoop down and take it away or it lands among the thorns and is choked out. Nevertheless, the sower liberally scatters the seed.
Let me pose the question to you that I’ve been sitting with recently: Where have you failed in the last two years? What are you learning from that?
In fact, this question may prove a fruitful spiritual exercise during the season of Lent, which is quickly approaching. “Lord, shine your light into my heart, my mind, and my soul. Search me out. Where have I failed? What things have I said or done that I should not have said or done? What things have I not said or done that I should have said or done? Please give me the grace and courage to amend my life.”
Tell you what, why don’t I begin? I think I’ve failed, or at least struggled, with the work of pastoring these last two years. It started innocently enough with a pandemic that forced everyone to stay home. But somehow or another nearly two years have passed since I have seen some of you. It may be the case that I have disappointed you or let you down in some way during these two years. Maybe I haven’t reached out as much as I could have. Maybe I missed some important life event. I am sure there is more that I could have done, some greater effort that I could have put in. All I can say now is, I’m sorry. I’m sorry if I have failed to be there for you as your pastor.
I would like to begin to amend this. Over the next while I’d love to spend time reconnecting with you and catching up. I want to hear how you are doing, what challenges you’ve been facing, and how you think God might be calling us as a church. So, I’ve set up a calendar online and blocked off Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sunday afternoons. Please feel free to set up an appointment here: https://jonathanturtle.youcanbook.me/. We can connect over the phone, via Zoom, or in person for those that are comfortable with that. No pressure, of course.
Anyways, failure is part of our Christian life but by the grace of God we can amend our ways and grow. We may even discover God’s strength in our weakness. Something to consider this Lent.
Thanks be to God.
Yours in Christ,
One thought on “On failure, Lent, and the grace of God.”
Each of us has our own failures! The biggest failure is when we fail to recognize our failures; and if we are blessed with the wisdom to do so, that we fail to take action to turn the failures into success. All our efforts may not result in success but we must continue to “try, try and try again”.