When I was eight years old, I received my first “H” on a report card. In the olden days that meant “having difficulty.” It said “having difficulty,” but it translated into “failure.” I made that “failure” in reading. I really struggled to learn to read. That year I was placed in a remedial reading class and stayed in that class until I was twelve. The reason I stopped being in the class was they did not offer it my eighth grade year.
This experience started me on the long glorious journey of being a failure.
I could not play sports, and to be honest, I was not really interested in them. I was the last kid picked for a team. By that I mean I was the only one left, and the team whose turn it was to pick had to take me.
Seventh grade spelling bees were perhaps the worst. My spelling is not, shall we say, pristine. Even now there are times spellcheck doesn’t even understand what I have spelled. I always tried to be at the end of the line in the spelling bee, and I prayed fervently that someone else would miss a word before the teacher got to me (mercenary, I know). But I could not spell the words right, and what would happen then? I would fail.
I made it to high school and in my junior year started dating this super smart girl and had a super smart best friend, and it felt like some of their super mart was rubbing off on me. Then it came time to pick junior marshals for graduation 1986. Junior marshals were 11th grade students who had the highest GPA in their class. They would usher in the graduating seniors on graduation night. The top fifteen students in the junior class were picked to serve in this capacity…. I was number sixteen.
Some of you might say that being sixteenth in your class is pretty awesome; for me, it was another failure.
I went to college and transferred in my junior year to another school. I had to do an additional year of classwork because I had not planned better. Fail. I graduated from college, married and took a teaching job. Things were looking up. Then, I found out that teaching in the public school was not my favorite thing to do. Fail.
I decided to become a “professional” artist. I created a drawing and had 500 prints made of it. There are about 400 prints still sitting in my closet to this day. Fail. Made a movie. Someone graciously paid to have the movie made into DVDs. Still have boxes of them in my closet to this day. Fail.
And that is just a brief overview of my failures. I haven’t even gotten into the innumerable things I have attempted and failed. It would take too long, and you are probably already bored with this post. Hum. Chalk that up to another fail.
So why am I telling you this? Is it to have a pity party for myself? Not really. I’m not a big fan of parties. The reason I share with you is that perhaps you are in the same boat, the one that keeps leaking. You are a failure.
Isn’t it so frustrating to look at your life and think sometimes that the only thing you are really good at is failing? I have even thought I should become a professional fail-er…. Oh, well, I’d probably fail at that, too.
I know some of you are rolling your eyes and saying, “But look at all your successes.” I’m sure my wife is saying that as she reads this. And you would be correct. I have had countless successes in my life. But people like me see those “successes” as how things ought to be. I mean, I am successfully breathing right now. There is nothing great about that. I’m alive; I should be breathing. Failure, on the other hand, is where I attempt to do something and am not successful. If I were to fail to continue to breathe, I would no longer be successful at living. I would be dead.
Someone in the audience will now say that you are, at least, successfully dead. Yeah. Whatever. You positive idealists always rain on my parade.
Seriously, those of us who live in the world where we see our failures in stark contrast to the rest of life, live in a hard place.
One of the results of our past failures is that we stop trying to succeed. We think, “The less I attempt, the less failures I accumulate.” It is, in some ways, a simpler road to walk.
It is also the wrong road.
God uses people who are failures. He does. Take a look at Peter. He did a really epic, epic fail when he denied Christ three times. What did God do with him? Did He say, “I am not going to use you, Peter. I need a successful person?” No, He turned Peter around and made him the keeper of His sheep, the speaker of Pentecost, and a contributor to the New Testament writings.
What if Peter had looked at his failures and said, “I’m done” and went to live as a hermit in a remote part of Israel? Peter did something different, though. He gathered with other believers and went fishing. When he saw the risen Christ, he jumped into the water and swam to Him. He accepted his reinstatement into the body of disciples, and he preached powerfully.
I think he never forgot his failures. Instead of wallerin’ (that’s a good old Southern word) in his failures, he used them to remind him of the great love and grace and mercy of our great God. He used his failures to keep himself humble, and to encourage himself that his success was dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit in his life.
One final thought: failure is part of life. We are all going to fail and have to face the consequences of our failure. So when we fail, what should we do? We need to learn from our failures. If we learn, we grow. If we grow, perhaps the next time we will succeed.
The little eight year old boy who struggled to read... just wrote this blog.