Healing Power of Failure

The title of this inspirational piece was provided by a section header in a book I have enjoyed and which I still use in a class.  The book, The Active Life, by my friend, Parker Palmer, helps with the basics of living the kind of life I want.  The subtitle of the book is quite revealing: A Spirituality of Work, Creativity and Caring.  I try to do all three things in my life.  I still work.  I hope to be creative.  And I want to care.  Let’s explore all three.

I was reading one of his chapters when I landed on the header of a section in that chapter.  The header read: “The Healing Power of Failure.”  I was immediately intrigued by the idea that somehow failure could be healing.  I certainly have known enough about failure.  Anyone my age has failed a few times.  If he or she has not, that person is likely to be lying---or never tried anything!

I jumped into the section to see how Palmer was going to develop it.  One of the things Palmer suggests is failure is not always a teacher.  Many of us choose to ignore it.  But he counsels that we “confront, acknowledge and explore” failure.  I reckon this takes a certain amount of courage.  This is good counsel for me.  I am sure I am one of those who usually ignore failure---or, at least, minimize it.  But I never learn from it if I do this.

Palmer develops his ideas in ways that help me to learn.  He says that failure is often paradoxical.  Palmer claims, “The paradox is that failure may turn to growth, while success can turn to self-satisfaction and closure.”  When Palmer put it this way, I began to take off on my own analysis.

Part of what I have been doing the last few years is to be involved in some entrepreneurial and innovative engagements.  To hang out with people who are quite innovative is exciting.  They do tend to be people with courageous hearts.  When I am tentative, they are ready to jump.  By saying this, I don’t mean to say they are reckless, much less stupid.  But they actively are responding to opportunities and trying to create opportunities.  It can be thrilling.

Palmer has a one-liner that tells me why innovative people are in the minority---why so many of us are afraid to participate in this dynamic.  He says, “Our culture puts such a premium on success, and such sanctions on failure, that we find it hard to affirm the rightness of failing at a good cause, to affirm the creativity that failure can contain.”

Again, this helps me re-focus the way I want to live.  I value success, but it is not the most important thing in my life.  And this is certainly true when I think about the spiritual journey.  The goal of a spiritual journey is not to succeed.  I am not even sure what a “successful spiritual journey” would even mean.  Most folks would not consider Jesus’ life to be “successful.”  It was meaningful, significant and world changing.  But being killed is not success.  And my spiritual journey is not geared to success either.

Maybe once more I have grasped an important theme in referring to Jesus.  If his spiritual journey was meaningful, significant and world changing, why should that not be true of mine and of yours?  It is a tall order to live that way, but to live in the Spirit is a big challenge.

This commitment to lead a spiritual life may set us up for failure.  I remind you of Palmer’s words: “our culture puts such a premium on success…that we find it hard to affirm the rightness of failing at a good cause.”  The good cause of the spiritual life includes following the implications of our deep commitment.  My deep commitment is to the God who created and called me into relationship.  That relationship may make demands on me that I would not make on myself.  But what God desires is always that “good cause” that Palmer describes.

The good cause that is God asks me to love enemies.  I am not sure I would do that if it were solely up to me.  I am confident I have the power to hate.  But God does not desire that.  So I am living a life in which I am trying to love all people at all times.  I am failing in this, but I am trying to learn from my failure.  It would be easy enough to give up.  But that would be the ultimate failure and from that there is nothing to learn.

The kind of love which I am trying to live out does at times lead to failure.  But failing at a good cause can be healing.  Instead of being wounded by my failure to love, I am healed and given more hope that I am learning and can be better in the future.  Many of us are not even good at loving those we say we love!  No wonder loving enemies is so hard.

But I am trying and my failures are healed by the power of a larger Love than I am.  And the healing power of failure leads to more profound love.  I am glad to be on the way.

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