Transformation of Failure

As I talk with pastors in transition, although many speak of the successes they have experienced, there is also the stain of perceived failure as they reflect on ministry, their previous call, and even hope for the future. These pastors and leaders see failure in the tasks they didn’t complete, relationships they couldn’t mend, and dreams they didn’t realize.

Pastors and church leaders are not alone in these feelings of failure and disappointment. In the book The Eloquence of Silence, Thomas Moore writes “Everyone wants fullness and completion and success. It isn’t easy to endure failure, even if it is honest. It isn’t easy to disappoint with your emptiness and absence.” In Individuation, Murray Stein writes, “Failure is part of life. Life calls not for perfection but for completeness, and it takes defects to reach completeness.”

Both Moore and Stein argue that failure can become transformable. For Stein, this transformation happens at the cross. It is where Jesus went after saying, “Not my will but thine be done.” And it is the place where Jesus experienced the ultimate betrayal of God’s presence, saying, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” The cross is also the crucible – the ultimate transformation— the uterus through which new life is born. It is where failure is transformed into completeness, and resurrection reminds us of hope that is always fresh and new.

Thomas talks about an experience a person had failed to get the job they wanted. Instead, the person found a different job in a career that they were not looking to go into. It turned out to be the perfect job, one they didn’t know they were looking for! Thomas writes, “You may not see the big picture and focus only on a narrow goal. You might also learn that a desire fulfilled can block other possibilities.”

As we all live through change that may also bring failure, perhaps God is calling us to discover ways of recasting our failure story into one of a life-giving experience, an experience shaped in the crucible of the cross. Through failure we may be led in new directions — a fruitful journey we would not have taken otherwise.

Rev. Craig Howard