In case you are just joining the Monday Memo family, I have declared the week of August 6-12 to be Celebrate a Failure week the world over. Here are some ways to celebrate (you can also read more about failure on the Monday Memo site):
- If you are a pastor, you can talk about failure in your Sunday services on August 6 or during your midweek gatherings starting on Monday, August 7. Someone once wrote me during a Celebration Week that there is no failure in the Bible. See if they're right. If not, then share what you find that can help people who have failed. You have plenty of them sitting right in front of you every Sunday.
- If you are a business leader, why not talk about failure with the other leaders and staff? Do you have any failures to celebrate as a business or team? What did you learn from them? What is stopping you from creating new failures? What could you possibly achieve today if you weren't afraid of trying and failing?
- You can celebrate as a family. You may want to study a biblical character who failed, like Samson, Moses, David, or Peter. Maybe there is some family story of failure that can be discussed and examined. Maybe you can even focus on some historical figure like Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., great leaders who also experienced great failures at some point.
- Classroom settings need not be left out of our celebration. If you teach, I would imagine that you can find enough teaching material to make up a classroom session or two when classes resume in September. History and science are full of failures that eventually led to success, of failures that provide significant lessons for your students.
- You can reflect and journal about some of your more significant personal failures. I will be doing that in the coming weeks as I prepare my own personal celebration. What did you learn? Do you view that failure the same today as you did when it occurred?
This week, let's consider whether on not failure can contribute to spiritual progress. Let me start by quoting from Thomas Merton’s book, New Seeds of Contemplation:
Perhaps we still have a basically superstitious tendency to associate failure with dishonesty and guilt—failure being interpreted as “punishment.” Even if a man starts out with good intentions, if he fails we tend to think he was somehow “at fault.” If he was not guilty, he was least “wrong.” And “being wrong” is something we have not yet learned to face with equanimity and understanding. We either condemn it with god-like disdain or forgive it with god-like condescension. We do not manage to accept it with human compassion, humility, and identification.
Thus we never see the one truth that would help us begin to solve our ethical and political problems: that we are all more or less wrong, that we are all at fault, all limited and obstructed by our mixed motives, our self-deception, our greed, our self-righteousness and our tendency to aggressivity and hypocrisy.
Merton said that failure to face my own humanity causes me not to accept the humanity of others. Failure is part of being human. You cannot serve God in the hopes that He will save you from your propensity to fail. If God did that, for example, He would not have commanded us to forgive one another. He knew we would fail one another and provided the means by which we could deal with it appropriately. God didn't say, "Now that you are mine, you won't be needing to forgive one another any longer." He was saying, "Now you can come to terms with your failure toward one another by forgiving one another."
Those who take refuge in a false sense of spirituality as they try to avoid human failure have already failed. If you don't fail, you won't try to succeed and if you don't try, you won't ever know which thing you can do is the thing you should do. If you don't fail, you deprive yourself of the great learning experience that only failure can provide. If you don't fail, you won't fully know or understand God's love that is with you no matter what.
So is failure part of spiritual development? Indeed it is, for it contributes to your spiritual growth by grounding you in your humanity. It's then that you know God's love and grace, and are able to share those with your fellow failing humans, not from a position of superiority, but from a position of identification.
pray that you will have a profitable time leading up to August 6-12. I already have enough failures to cover the next ten Celebrate a Failure weeks, and I'm sure t I will collect even more material in the coming season of life! With that in mind, I look forward to celebrating my humanity and my spirituality with you in a few weeks. Thank God He still loves and uses us, even in our human condition. Have a great week!