There’s a disturbing trend in our society. It’s a condition, actually, an apparent allergy to…failure.
Take kids’ sports: Many of them don’t award championships anymore. Everyone gets participation trophies; better teams aren’t distinguished from those with less talented ones. In lower-age brackets, they often don’t even keep score. Why? We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Failing to win a Saturday morning soccer match, or finishing third in the youth baseball league could forever scar the “losers” for the rest of their lives. Or so we’re told.
While I’m no expert on the emotional and psychological ramifications of wins and losses on young minds, we’re in big trouble trying to shield our children and grandkids from failure. Because in our hostile, dispassionate world, not everybody wins. If you’re passed up for a promotion, the bosses don’t care if your feelings are bruised.
Tim Tebow spoke about this recently. Remember the humble, clean-cut Heisman Trophy winner who briefly visited the NFL and today aspires for a spot on one of baseball’s major league teams? Despite his successes, Tebow also has known failure; by his own admission, he's better for it.
Speaking at the start of New York Mets’ spring training camp, Tebow explained his aspirations for reaching the major leagues after a so-so experience in pro football. He said:
“You’re always going to have people that tell you that you won’t, that you can’t, that you shouldn’t. Most of those are people that didn’t, that wouldn’t, that couldn’t. Don’t be defined by outside sources. You go after your dream.
“Succeeding or failing…it’s not having to live with your regret because I didn’t try. I just feel for all the young people out there that don’t go after something because they’re so afraid of failing. You’re going to live with a lot more regret than if you tried and you failed. I think a reason a lot of people don’t go after things is because of how much you will be criticized and, ‘what if I do fall flat on my face?’
“Fear and doubt creep in, and I don’t think that’s the healthiest way to live. I don’t want to have to live with doubt every day. Regardless of what everyone here has to say about me, that doesn’t define me…. There’s one thing that defines me, and that’s what God says about me.”
Tebow has been considered by some as a “polarizing figure,” largely because he’s a bold, unapologetic witness for Jesus Christ, who strives to live out the faith he professes. Which he’s done, win or lose. He won college football’s highest individual honor and led the Florida Gators to two national championships. But he’s also fallen far short of other goals, failing to translate his collegiate success to NFL stardom. Whether he’ll ever play in a major-league ballpark remains in question.
But as he says, “There’s one thing that defines me, and that’s what God says about me.” That should be our philosophy as well as followers of Jesus Christ, whether we’re IT technicians, law enforcement officers, school teachers, restaurant hosts, college students, homemakers, or construction workers.
And if you’re not failing sometimes, it’s only because you’re not trying. No one succeeds 100 percent of the time. Thomas Alva Edison, George Washington Carver, Steve Jobs and the Wright brothers all learned failure’s necessary for removing some of the obstacles to success.
Among the delights of reading the Scriptures are stories of God’s “failures,” men and women who endured hardships and survived hard knocks to become His servants and messengers. You don’t have to read long – Adam and Eve messed up in the third chapter of Genesis, and humankind has been following their “example” ever since.
Look at any of the central characters in the Old and New testaments, from Noah and Abraham, Jacob and David, to the apostles Peter and Paul, and you’ll find their failures devastated but didn’t define them.
Maybe that’s why God reminds us often our Christian “walk” will be filled with stumbles along the way. In Isaiah 41:10, the Lord promises, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
In the previous chapter, the prophet writes, “…The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth…. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 41:28-31).
In one of his wisdom books, King Solomon describes the need for support to overcome perilous falls and failures: “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
We don’t have to seek out failure. It will find us. But if we have any doubt about what God can do with people who fail, all we need to do is turn to the 11th chapter of Hebrews, where God presents His “hall of faith.” In addition to Old Testament patriarchs cited above, we read about Moses, who stumbled more than once; Rahab the prostitute, Samson, Samuel, and others.
If they could fail and yet be used by God, to the point that they received special recognition in the Scriptures, so can we!
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Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly re-published, “Business At Its Best,” “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. To read more of Bob Tamasy’s writings, you can visit his blog, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, or his website (now being completed), www.bobtamasy-readywriterink.com. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.