Failure: How to Bounce Back from Your Next One

Failure: How to Bounce Back from Your Next One March 20, 2013

Failure. You are planning to experience it again aren’t you?

Some years ago I added this line to my life mission statement: “Embrace failure as the only path to success.” [ Tweet this! ] I’ve had to remind myself of it far too often of late.

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How to Bounce Back

A recent failure reminded me of a family scene from a few years ago. We were vacationing in sunny Charleston, SC. It was our kids’ first experience with ocean surf. At the time, they were toddlers who had trouble walking on solid ground, let alone on shifting sand.

“Now, children,” I said, taking the tone of an expert sand-walker as I clutched the hands of my two sparkling-eyed daughters, “if you fall down, all you have to do is stand up.” I could tell from the look on their faces that they could have used my post How to Stop Being Afraid. Except for the whole reading part that is.

I could tell from their nervous glances at the Atlantic waves pounding past us that they weren’t sure whether they believed me. The warm waters off the coast of Charleston only came up to their waists, but each wave at that depth crested at or above their dainty chins.

Within the hour they were braving the surf without my hand, splashing and having a grand time – until the youngest one slipped, lost her footing on the shifting sands, and fell face first into the surf. My first instinct was to leap the great distance (less then six feet, actually) separating me from my sputtering daughter. But I didn’t. I waited to see if she would remember my instructions.

I hope you won’t mind my indulging in a little daddy bravado when I report that she did exactly what I had told her to do. After a brief instant of uncertain splashing – she simply stood up.

“Daddy,” she reported while wiping her face excitedly. “Daddy, I was drownding!”

When the Waves of Life Hit You

As I studied the Biblical accounts of several of the Old Testament patriarchs recently, I thought of my daughter’s “drownding” incident. Not because each of them had a similar childhood scare, but because each of them got hit by waves in life – often bigger than the 2-footers that got my daughter that day a few years ago. Most of them lost their footing and fell flat on their faces, too. Not in the sun and surf but in the salty waters of sin.

If we’re honest, we must confess that the waves take us down more often than we want to admit. If a just man is supposed to get up seven times, then we’re way over the limit. But the worst of it is not in the falling, although we should never plunge willy-nilly into sin. The greatest danger comes from the paralyzing panic that follows.

In short, we panic when we go down. We convince ourselves that we can’t get back up. Instead, we should expect to fail as we learn and grow. As Pablo Picasso put it, “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order to learn how to do it.” In a way, we should always be preparing to bounce back from our next failure.

Why We Struggle to Get Back Up

Why do we struggle to bounce back from our failure? According to the research of Robert Fritz, our fear is due to one of two paralyzing mindsets:

  • We don’t believe we can. We fear failing again. Worse, we fear what people will say about us. Again. If only our visions were FDIC insured like our bank deposits, then we might try again. Maybe. Of course, we’re right. We are miserable failures – just like those disappointing patriarchs. But God – working through us – can do all things. Apparently, God seeks surrendered, not perfect, people.
  • We don’t believe we’re worthy. Other people are. You know the ones. They have missionary agencies and ivy-covered halls named after them. Someone else. Not us. And that’s what gets most of us. God has given us each visions to fulfill –books to be written, ministries to be organized, culture-transforming endeavors to be developed – but still we hesitate. We plan. We pray. We even stumble forward with our plan then realize the horrific thought: what if the plan works? What if we succeed? We know our sins, our secret faults that cause us to slip beneath the waves so often. So we beat ourselves mercilessly – all the while drowning in our own self-pity – until we panic. We let go of the vision and slip beneath life’s crashing waves..

As the writer of Ecclesiastes so poignantly put it, all is empty repetition. We fall. We get up. We fall again. There seems no point to any of it. And his response? “Fear God and keep His commandments – and enjoy every minute of it!”

The next time you feel like panicking, remember the miserable failures and – let’s say it – selfish jerks who became members of the Faith Hall of Fame. Remember that your worst suspicions are correct: You can’t do it. You are not worthy. And know that God has called you to your kingdom vision, anyway.

For it is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13)

It’s not a pep talk. It’s reality. Just stand up. You’ll only drown if you stay down. [ Tweet this! ]

What things do you find helpful to encourage you to stand back up after yet another failure? Share your experience with a comment to help others grow.

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