Failure and Relief

Nobody likes to fail. Failure is inherently painful. It sparks feelings of frustration, loss, inadequacy, and hopelessness. As a result, we fear and loathe failure. We strive to avoid it and to achieve success in our lives. The common fear of failure, however, is based on the false assumption — the lie — that we can achieve success in life on our own terms and by our own efforts. We cannot achieve satisfaction in life on our own terms and by our own efforts any more than we can by chasing idols. Indeed, our objects and standards of success typically just are our idols: career, education, family/relationships, physical appearance, reputation, social status, etc. Seeking success in idols is a recipe for failure, because they do not have the power to give or to sustain what we need for living a meaningful life: friendship with God.

I cannot simultaneously strive to achieve something and receive it as a gift. God's reconciling friendship, including His forgiveness of us, comes as a gift from God or does not come at all. Our grateful embracing of this life-giving gift enables our lives to be successful on His terms, not ours. The lie of self-sufficiency, that I must achieve my own success in life, precludes my receiving the gift of forgiveness that allows me to be reconciled to God in loving friendship. To achieve or to receive: this is the life-making or life-breaking choice.

Given the lie of self-sufficiency, I will inevitably fail. No matter what I do, I cannot achieve by my own efforts the joy, peace, contentment, and love I desperately need to live a meaningful life. Even if I manage to get a temporary "fix" of excitement or satisfaction from achieving a self-assigned success, this fix will be short-lived and I will move on to the next goal. Even if my life is a parade of such short-term fixes, these fixes will come to an end in my death. Left to my own resources, I will inevitably fail when I die.

Our common fear of failure prompts a common but dangerous response: I embark on endless striving to achieve my idols of success. I will then be left exhausted, without peace, and without lasting meaning. My idols of success, even when fully achieved, do not silence God's trumpet call of death; nor do they remove the willful selfishness within me. Having achieved "success" on my own terms, I will still be restless, without peace. Failure will still stalk me and haunt me. Given my impending death, I am undeniably a failure in sustaining my own existence. Left to me, my future is dark indeed. It empties into an abyss where I exist no longer. The tyranny of achievement is a sure ticket to extinction.

Perhaps, then, I will give up, once and for all. Trying to achieve success is futile, I decide, because the benchmark is too high and my resources are too low. If I don't try to achieve anything, then I won't be a failure, strictly speaking. Even so, it is dishonest for any functional person to claim that he or she doesn't try to achieve anything. Tragically, even the despairing person who commits suicide tries to achieve something: his or her death. Willfulness is thus no stranger to people, even those of us in the cold, unforgiving grips of suicide. A dangerous myth underwrites any such response: the lie that because I cannot achieve success by my own efforts, I cannot live a successful life at all. Accepting this lie, I place myself in the position of final authority over the successful life. I pretend to be God. I inevitably die as an impostor.

Left to ourselves, we lack genuine relief from our fear of failure. This fear lingers beneath the surface of our lives, in masks that hide and divert. Lacking relief, we become prone to frustration and selfish anger, as our efforts to bring about our own success fail again and again. We even become angry with God for not making us successful on our terms. Our idols and our striving toward them do not deliver lasting success and relief, and we become angry in unrelieved frustration.

The living God delivers success and relief where we all have failed. He changes the plan from achieving to receiving. Even though I have failed to keep God's love commands, God still offers me success, even lasting success, in life. His success comes as a free, unearned gift in His Son, Jesus. His success reconciles me to Him in friendship made available in the self-giving sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Only here do we find true relief from fear, guilt, shame, and failure. The Good News of Jesus is a success story of merciful love for God's enemies, namely, us. This success is given freely to us, and not earned or otherwise achieved by us. My seeking to earn success in God's eyes amounts to rejecting God, for it assumes that God does not first love us. It assumes that God is not genuinely perfectly loving. It assumes that God is not truly the God worthy of worship.

Assume, contrary to reality, that I must earn my good standing with God. In that case, when I fail, I will refuse God's forgiveness, because I have not earned it. I may then readily lapse into self-condemnation: since I have failed to earn good standing with God, I do not deserve His forgiveness; instead, I deserve condemnation. Fortunately for us, we have Good News: God's forgiveness of us comes as a free gift, and not by our earning. I do not deserve it, and you do not either. Even so, the Good News of forgiveness and reconciliation comes to us. This Good News is wrapped up in Jesus, the bearer of divine forgiveness and reconciliation. He is our only Rescuer, our only Relief. Only in him do we find lasting success, the success of his Father's unsurpassable love. In God and His Son, there is no failure. Only abundant life. Will we receive His life? Will we succeed or fail?


You Come

I suffer from lies
again and again.
They whisper as You shout
and shout as You whisper.
They make me demand
things I don't need.
They hurt me with
cruel accusation.
They make me blind
to things from Your hand.
They kill me.
And I stand by and listen.

I think You owe me
the things I want now.
My anger rises as I
demand even more.
My anger rises against
the lies.
I blame you.
It chases away
any thanks I owe You.

Still, in compassion, You come
to me in my lies.
In love's anger You come.
You uncover them all
and open my eyes.
You lift me up
where I can see
You and what's true.
My lies kill me.
You rescue me from suicide.