Memos to myself embarrassed by failure


Let me just lay it out for you here: I, uh, may have actually started these memos for me, while I huddled in my bedroom chair on a Sunday morning, hoping it would be a few more minutes before the kids popped in or started fighting.

And then I thought maybe you’d like to read over my shoulder. Because maybe I’m not the only one who grapples with what may be…failure.

Failure seems to flay open my skin, unveiling raw questions inside. Questions like, What does this say about me? Or, Why didn’t God show up? Or maybe, What do I do now?

I see great people in the Bible wrangling these same questions: I see Elijah, alone in a cave. And John the Baptist—the one who first identified “The Lamb of God!”—rotting in a stinking cell, with a telling message for Jesus: Are you the one, or should we expect someone else?

So here’s my first pass at memos to myself as I turn this situation and maybe a few others over in my mind, as I swallow and try to understand.

Dear Janel (and interested others),

  1. Remember the garden. Not the one in the beginning (Eden); the one in the end (Gethsemane). Remember that Jesus had an “unanswered” prayer, one He prayed so hard, He sweat blood. Keep in mind how important it was that He didn’t get a “yes.”
  1. Remember the hiding. Just 24 hours after the Garden, His disciples were cowering behind locked doors, shaken and haunted. For three years they’d recklessly placed all of their eggs in this basket, and now–? Remember that sometimes what looks like smashing failure is ultimately stunning victory. 
  1. Remember that God makes beautiful things out of dust. Whether it’s a prodigal child, a drowning business venture, or even a capsized marriage, no matter our level of responsibility, what people intend for evil, God intends for good (Genesis 50:20).

This does not mean evil is not evil, or that bad is good: Jesus weeps at Lazarus’ grave, for the loss and travesty of this death, even though He knows God will create a miracle in minutes.

There are times when my failure is a megaphone, calling attention to weakness and sin I can’t avoid anymore. (Sometimes it isn’t.) I find Tim Keller’s words unforgettable:

The biblical view of things is resurrection—not a future that is just a consolation for the life we never had but a restoration of the life you always wanted. This means that every horrible thing that ever happened will not only be undone and repaired, but will in some way make the eventual glory and joy even greater.[1]


  1. Remember courage. Imagine the ecstasy of Peter, defying the laws of nature and gliding on water. Imagine not only the physical choking and sputtering and dread as he began to drown—but also the emotional reality that his faith had overturned; he wasn’t enough. Still now, in 2016, we speak only of Peter as the one with enough hutzpah to get out of the boat.

Would it have been better if he hadn’t?

Would it be better if we didn’t expect God to show up in the way we hoped? If we had reasonably-sized, well-contained hopes?

Certainly not.

I am uplifted by Teddy Roosevelt’s striking exhortation in his 1910 speech at the Sorbonne:


It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.


Catch Part II here.

I want to learn from you. What have your failures taught you? 


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