Learning to Fail Forward

As a teacher, one of the things that I deal with on a daily basis is students whose only concern is making sure they don’t fail my class. Not that they learn as much as they can. Not that they put forward their best effort. Not that they are making progress into the men and women that God has created them to be. No, they just don’t want to fail. Realistically, for most of them, failing doesn’t mean getting an F. If they “bomb” a test, often they mean that they have a low B or a high C. To be totally honest, this would worry me way less if I was confident it was something they’d grow out of.

The reality is, unfortunately, that many of us keep that same mindset as we move forward in life. We aren’t so much focused on success, accomplishment, or growth, but we just don’t want to fail. We’ve become convinced that to fail means we’re a failure. We’ve lost sight of the difference between what we do, which is a momentary part of our reality, and who we are, which is a reality that decides our eternity. Our successes and accomplishments are wonderful things, but only if we are succeeding and accomplishing things which reflect who we are made to be, the sons and daughters of God most high.

Our Father in Heaven isn’t setting quotas on us that we have to meet in order for Him to love us. He loves us, full stop. The end. No qualifiers. He loves us, and wants our good. Our successes and failures don’t define us in His eyes, though they often can in ours. This is another reason we have to ask Him to give us His eyes, to see that we are valuable, even when we fail. To see that we are good, even when we fall.

Our failures shouldn’t be trapping us in our past. Instead, let’s use them to propel us into our Heavenly futures. When St. Peter denied Christ three times, he could have thrown in the towel. After all, he didn’t just fail, he failed catastrophically. Hours before, he professed that if Jesus died, he’d die too. Almost immediately, he chokes on those words, and instead swears, “I do not know the man!” This does become a defining moment for St. Peter, but as a turning point. The shame of St. Peter doesn’t trap him, making him failure forever. Instead, it is transformed by Christ who asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” St. Peter accepts his own redemption and then carries out the task of feeding Jesus’ sheep.

When we fail, that isn’t the end of our story. We have to recognize that our failures are what Jesus came for. Not to judge or mock, but to transform. Our failures are real, but just as the wounds from the Crucifixion remain, almost as trophies on the glorified body of the Risen Christ, our failures and the marks they make on us can become part of the story of how we became the people we were ultimately created to be.

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