Question: What do you call a losing football coach in Texas?
Americans, as a rule, have an uneasy relationship with failure, as seen in the many adaptations of the old proverb, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Those adaptations include the following: “If at first you don’t succeed, failure may be your style.” “If at first you don’t succeed, find out if the loser gets anything.” “If at first you don’t succeed, destroy all the evidence.”
The fear of failure is a powerful motivator, whether in sports, academics, business, or relationships. No one wants to be seen as a “loser,” which is signified by holding the index finger and the thumb in a right angle over the forehead. People will engage in all sorts of shady behaviors if it will help them “save face,” avoid public failure, and escape the epithet of “Loozaaah.”
However, failure is not really an event but the way we interpret an event. Failure is a judgment we place on an outcome. And our judgments and interpretations are very often short-sighted and narrowly conceived. From one perspective, a basketball team that loses several games because its coach sat its best three players could be viewed, in the short-term, as a failure. But a coach who has clenched the division and is willing to rest the players before the playoffs and accept some “failure” to gain a better chance at playoff victory could be viewed as a success. Failure depends on one’s perspective.
Consider the following quotes that help redefine failure in a broader, more positive light. “Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently” (Henry Ford). “What we call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down” (Mary Pickford). “Don’t worry about failure; worry about the things you miss when you don’t even try” (Teddy Roosevelt). These sayings point to the idea it is not failure that defines us but the way we respond to failure.
The apostle Paul’s perspective in 2 Corinthians 12 is that God’s power is made perfect in our human weaknesses. Where we come up short and, dare I say it, fail, Christ’s power is free and alive to do its work in us. Paul goes so far as to say, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Our failures, perhaps more than anything else in our lives, provide us with the crystal clear reminder that we must deeply rely upon God.
The question is not whether we will fail; the question is how we will respond to failure. Seeing our failures in light of God’s overarching work in our lives enables us to avoid viewing them as debilitating catastrophes and more as learning occasions and growth opportunities. May God’s power be made perfect in your weakness, even your failures!