A friend and I were talking about fear the other day. About how the same actions can be driven by either fear or love. Consider, say, going to church every Sunday or reading our Bible every day. Do we do these because we love God and want more of Him? Or have we been raised in a family that went to church every Sunday and we think it is a failure to do so? Are we motivated by fear or love in this?
The conversation then continued on to failure. I know it so well — the fear of failure. Mostly because it seems to be woven into the strings of my soul, this fear. Most days it is this darkness looming in the corners. It lingers deep beneath the surface, this shadow that takes over in shades of gray. Failure has this quality of reminding of itself constantly, at the worst times. Especially in our weak moments. Enough pain, and the fear spreads its wings easily.
Somehow, failure always seems worse when it comes close to anything related to God. So we hide it; tuck it under the folds of our hearts, where the sharp edges cut the raw flesh. It stings; it bleeds. We bleed.
What makes it all harder, is the way that church seems to respond to failure. We see brothers and sisters stumble; but instead of mercy and grace pouring out, we are shocked. We wonder how they could fail like this — apparently forgetting that we fall and sin as well. So when a brother or a sister comes and confesses, our shock only twists the knife in the wound. Then we wonder, why others do not feel like they can confess their sins. Why they work so hard to hide their sin.
“Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16)
We have faith that can enable us to walk on water. Yet we don’t allow God to work in us — or in others. Because isn’t that what our shock tells those who stumbled along the way? Our disapproval pours out like judgment, making us hypocrites at best. Our words reveal what we were always afraid of: that failure makes us second class saint, in need of Jesus yet too wretched to actually come to church.
What If Church Allowed Failure
Late into the night I wonder, what would the Church of Christ be like if it allowed failure as a part of life.
“For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13)
Our church is a fairly small one; and we live this reality day in and day out. In a smaller church, it is harder to miss the fall. I know this because I have been on both sides of the story. I have been the one who failed horribly; nevertheless I was still welcome in our community. I have also been there when a friend stumbled and fell, has fallen into sin head first.
In both cases, the shock rings deep in our souls. Understandably, we are confused and question so much. We never want to believe the worst about those who are close to us.
Still, it seems like judgment rolls in and we forget the place of mercy and grace. We are quick to demand consequences, all the while questioning the one who fell. We offer our opinions and advices, all laced with the shock and disbelief — even anger. After a while, we wonder why the person has not been coming to church. Why we see them less. There is a downward spiral, and I cannot help but think that we could avoid this sometimes by correcting our attitudes. By allowing failure as a part of life, a part of being human.
Now, please, do not get me wrong. Love never allows sin to be; it never leaves sin to reign where it is. Love deals with sin, here and now. But love does not bring on shame. Love does not break the wounded one.
“But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:7-8)
What Failure Allows Us To See
One afternoon I was having a cup of coffee with my landlord. She is the sweetest lady you can find, and we often reflect on life together. Late afternoons over coffee, bring the tendency of revealing our hearts. There is a lot of life that happens over decades — and I am only beginning to understand it, having been here for such a short while. These decades can carry grief and regret, sorrow and shame. They can carry a lot of insight, as well. I am learning so much, over these moments shared.
That afternoon, we discussed life and failure. I had carried the weight of shame on my shoulders, facing failure where I thought I should have known better. That is when the words came, lifting the hurt for a moment and pouring healing salve over those wounds.
“But that’s why we fail, isn’t it? So that we remember we are not God. We are only human. Just like God designed us to be.”
We all fail. That is a fact of life, as long as we are here on earth. But that is not the end point. We can all be washed clean by the blood of Jesus, no matter who we are or what we have done. And hard as it is, we can trust Jesus to deal with the sin — and we can pour out grace, like He has done for us.