Embrace your failures!

We can’t change what happened, but we can change how we respond. Tania Bright encourages us to be kind to ourselves

My journey has been an interesting one (isn’t everyone’s, in their own way?). I have a classic, prodigal daughter testimony, where I grew up in a Christian family, turned away from family and faith in my teens, only to return dramatically in my mid-twenties.

Many were relieved, not least myself! However, in not wanting to burst the ‘bubble of comfort’ on this happy, grace-filled, life-turned-around story, I must balance it at least, in no small measure.

Because since coming to faith 14 years ago, the journey’s been a paradox of passion and pain in equal measure. I haven’t had the “Ta-dah! Look, see, everything’s OK now” experience, which can so often accompany my type of story.
What I have, helpfully, realised is that none of us, whether Christian or not, are exempt from both trials and joys. Matthew 5:45 sums this up: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” I’ve learnt that no amount of faith will stop bad things happening to good people. Nor good things happening to bad people! Nor good people making mistakes, and bad people making wise choices and vice versa!

Since coming to faith I’ve encountered multiple and heart-breaking bereavements; made poor financial choices; lost confidence through redundancy; suffered a significant relationship breakdown; failed at ministry endeavours; struggled with people’s unmet expectations in me and vice versa; had a near breakdown; have aspirations as of yet not even close to seeing lived out; deeply grieved through two miscarriages; and, all too regularly, clocked up significant social faux pas.
Now in middle age, I’m embracing the failures, fears, flops and fiascos. I see them differently now. I don’t see them as cringe worthy black marks nor as a personal immaturity that I’ll eventually grow out of. And most importantly, I don’t now mark myself down as unredeemable nor beyond the love or grace of God. Quite the opposite.

I now see the failures, fears, flops and fiascos as an opportunity. To be kind to myself, then to breathe ... and then even more remarkably, to learn. Brené Brown, the renowned American philosopher on kindness, asserts, “Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love.” I tried it and I’m changed because of it. The kindness which I now afford myself has liberated me to learn from difficult situations, rather than beat myself up because of them. And kindness toward myself has also allowed the privilege of seeing quite how magnificent aspects of me really are. And, just as exciting, to see quite how magnificent aspects of others really are! It affects everything.

So I now live my life through kindsight rather than mere hindsight. It’s not just theory, it informs how I interpret and accept the past, negotiate and enjoy the present and remain optimistic for the future.

We might not be able to change what’s happened, but we can change our continued response to it. And God wants to be in on every part of this journey, not just the parts of life we feel OK about, or are proud enough of. God wants to breathe goodness and kindness and love into every area of our life – particularly the ones we’re the most frightened or ashamed of.
The Christian faith is so profound. Psalm 103 (New Living Translation) tells us: “For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.”

May this encourage and inspire you to be brave and firstly embrace failure. Failure is part of the human experience. It’s how we deal with it, or not, that matters. We can either hold ourselves back with shame, anger, pride or embarrassment, or, move on. And to move on is to stop comparing our lives to others, take responsibility, forgive ourselves, hold onto the atoning work of the cross and believe Jesus will take it and turn the failure into something beautiful.

+ Tania Bright is group executive director of Enterprise - Chapel Street; executive chair of Love146 Europe and a popular speaker.

4 steps to move on from failure
1 — Never compare yourself to others.
Not one person breathing and walking this earth right now is exempt from failure. To compare our lives to others, assuming that others must somehow have it all together is deeply destructive. No one person has a 100% success rate in all they do. Everybody makes mistakes or simply fails at something. Once this is understood, it’s easier to be kind to ourselves and to begin to see others, not as a threat, but as fellow-sojourners who need our love and compassion, and us theirs.

2 — Take responsibility, however hard, for the part, however small, we played in the failure.
If we don’t take responsibility, we can’t honestly assess our behaviour and we can’t harness the powerful gift of knowledge that would be available to us. Knowledge and self-awareness after  failure, seen through kindsight are the most under-utilised change-agents for moving on.  By grappling with our contribution to the failure, we can either ensure the same failure isn’t repeated or, at the very least, we can see the wood for the trees as to what really happened.

3 — Forgive yourself
Self-forgiveness is paramount. How many of us are walking around with stooped shoulders and a defeated attitude because of our own failings? Lots. Even though we’ve repented, said sorry a million times, begged for mercy and researched flagellation on Google. But what is first required is the art of self-forgiveness! This entails standing in front of the mirror and saying something not dissimilar to “you fell on your face my dear friend. It won’t be the last time and right now I’m going to treat you with kindness and forgive you, because that way you can learn and try to avoid the same mistake again. Onwards old chappess”. This type of kindsight is very liberating. It frees us from the prison of holding onto the pain. I must have had a hundred of these conversations with myself over the years. Often followed with prayer, with hands that rather sheepishly hand the whole sorry mess to Jesus. Again.

4 — Appreciate the huge, glorious and loving nature of our Father God.
When we know that love, that perfect love, we need never have to prove anything again to anyone, nor will we believe that we will only be loved if we’re perfect. Which is hogwash. We are loved and loved dearly, as we are, with who we are right now, bringing what we bring right now. Because of the work of the cross, we can, no must, move on.