Pause for thought: Failure and Success
What does failure, and what does success mean to you? We tend to think of them as opposites, but they aren’t so far apart. I once heard it said that ninety percent of all those who fail are not actually defeated. They simply quit.
I had to remind myself of that last night when I got yet another rejection through for some poems I had submitted to a magazine. I’d had a few acceptances more recently, and I thought that I had turned a corner. But last night I felt like giving up. I was reminded of the Churchill quote that it takes courage to keep going: Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.
I came across a scrap of paper with a great quote from Dr Jane Williams, but sadly I don’t know where it came from. But she said: For Christians there is no shame in failure. The only shame is not being prepared to accept forgiveness.
This speaks to the experience of both Peter and Judas during Holy Week. We remember Peter later as the first head of the church, the rock on which Jesus built the Church. Judas, we remember simply as the betrayer. So, the only difference between them is that one couldn’t face what he had done, the other had the courage to face it, and seek God’s forgiveness and power to change.
As we turn towards the events of holy week and Easter once again we see that failure and success are so interlinked. What looks like success (Jesus being praised by the crowd riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday) really isn’t, and what looks like complete failure, Jesus dying on the cross, is actually good triumphing over evil. We just haven’t seen it yet. In fact, we still haven’t. We still live with the aftereffects of evil, sin and death in our world, now more so than ever. Violence and destruction is all around us. It’s easy to despair.
However the events of Holy Week and Easter remind us that things aren’t what they seem. Death does lead to life. The natural world reminds us of this. The Bible teaches us this:
Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
If everything feels painful, confusing or just hard at the moment, Holy Week and Easter reminds us that what looks hopeless is actually hope-ful. Sometimes, it takes courage to just keep going. All we can do is to hold on and put one foot in front of the other and keep walking. We can’t control our lives, nor make things happen ourselves. These words from Dom Helder Camara help us see that. I have often reminded myself of them when I’ve needed to be reminded to keep going and to turn to God.
that upset your plans,
shatter your dreams,
give a completely different
turn to your day
and (who knows?) to your life.
It is not chance.
Leave our God free to weave
the pattern of your day.
(Dom Helder Camara)
The only difference between Judas and Peter was that Judas couldn’t face up to what he had done, he couldn’t face asking for help. Peter asked for forgiveness and for the help and power to start again. He kept going.
For Christians there is no shame in failure. The only shame is not being prepared to accept forgiveness.
Revd Dr Manon Ceridwen James