Applauding Failure

shutterstock_489435382When approaching something new we can be so afraid to do something wrong—or be bad at it—that we not only procrastinate, we never even try. We can be paralyzingly afraid to fail. But hear this: you don’t have to be perfect, or the best, you just need to do your best. Even before that, you simply need to begin.

Nike’s tagline was perfect: “Just do it”. We can be immobilized wondering how to start, afraid of all the unknowns, fearful of what others think, and particularly afraid to fail. It takes courage to try something new and step out of our comfort bubble. Though starting is the hardest part, starting over is where the battle is won.

If you fail—good. I mean it. Failure is sooo good. Making mistakes is the way we learn and grow. Failure builds the grit we need to keep us from quitting. Mistakes aid humility, form us into authentic human beings, and fuel compassion for others. Failure inspires fortitude and ensures we appreciate the gift of arriving at our goal.  Success is sweeter because of the skinned knees and bruises we received while missing the mark. If we aren’t failing it’s possible we’re too comfortable, or even standing still.

Just because you failed, it doesn’t make you a failure. Quite the opposite. You linked arms with bravery long enough to try something difficult. You reached high enough to be breathlessly uncomfortable. The hard things you dared made future tasks less daunting. Accomplishing the seemingly unreachable made the next challenge that much easier. Through it all, you didn’t allow failure to define you.

So you, wildly gifted you, step out—as often as needed. You don’t give up. Each day you pluck away at one smaller aspect of the larger task. You don’t know exactly how you will accomplish your audacious goal, but the fire fueling the inspiration refuses to be extinguished. In spite of the unknowns, the crippling feelings of inadequacy, and fear of failure, you don’t quit.

Soon you realize that you’ve completed that marathon, decluttered your home, started your own TV show, saved untold lives, raised a house full of kids, are running your own business, have written that novel, and are celebrating decades of marriage. You’re blissfully surrounded by supportive others on their unique journey, and are championing them on theirs. More than that, you’re deeply grateful for everything—even the failures, of which every single one you survived.

All because you showed up, and didn’t give up. You tried when you were tired, and kept on though you worried you didn’t do it well enough, or fully enough, or were the best for the job. You smiled when you could have cried, because you knew its warmth would lend strength to another. Each day, no matter the mountain, you put one foot in front of the other, drawing from a pool of faith and hoping that—by the grace of God—your efforts would compile to make a dint of difference. That somehow you would scale the summit.

And though it wasn’t the end goal, you got acquainted with your true self. You grew to like your own company and recognised that you’re enough. That the effort was enough and that no part of it was wasted. The failures were the fabric of the journey; all of them forming a depth and richness that much sweeter for the mistakes. Anything lacking, all the stumbles and scraped knees, God somehow stitched together with the golden threads of his love.

So here’s to all the times you could have quit but didn’t. The times you could have listened to the naysayers but plugged your ears. The times it would have been easier to remain on your rear-end in the dust-riddled remains of your pride than risk rising. The times you could have retreated but carried on weary and battle worn. Here’s to not letting go of your vision and for having the heart to start in the first place.

And here’s one more encouragement. Think of the sculptor. He sees the sculpture while it’s still a hunk of stone, then sets about the painstaking work to reveal it one chip at a time. One small manageable piece. And think of you: still in formation; bravely chipping away one small task at a time, hewing you closer to the completion of the larger one. Or, as one of my pastors used to say, “Inch by inch, it’s a cinch. Mile by mile it takes awhile.”

Whatever it is, just do it!

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  1. What mountain or obstacle are you facing today? Is it a tangible task, or something you must overcome in your thinking?
  2. Pray for the courage and strength to do what needs to be done today.
  3. Break it into smaller pieces, and tackle one small bit at a time. Show up, do your best, and, just as the sculptor, keep your vision in mind.

 

 

 

 

Unfinished Works & Masterpieces

painting

A couple of weeks ago, I nearly finished a painting. I had challenged myself to begin an abstract piece without a sketch. I’ve never done that before, and it took giving up control and allowing it to go where it would. The only structure I put in place was a straight line drawn horizontally across the oversized canvas.

Like most art, it’s nearly impossible to say when it’s complete. The incomplete canvas leaned lonely against our kitchen table for several days while I reviewed the edits for my novel. Then we left for a week away. Upon returning, my husband promptly hung my almost finished piece on the living room wall to await its final touches. He and the kids said it looked complete already. All I could see stretched out before me were the other areas and hours I planned on tweaking it.

Aren’t we a bit like that painting?

We exist as unfinished masterpieces.

When others look at us, we look pretty good, maybe even complete. But our creator knows there’s more to be done. He’s the only one who can truly see when the work is finished. Because he loves us, he won’t lean us against a table, forget about us, or let go, until we are fully a masterpiece.

During the painting process, we look for a sketch to follow, but must instead keep striking out in faith. This takes trust and courage, especially when we feel unsure of our direction, completely lost, lonely, or are hurting. In such times, we think if we only had a sketch—some step-by-step plan—to guide us, then the canvas of our lives would turn out just right. But we aren’t the artist.

As I painted, I experimented with solid body paint, applying it thick to create texture. I waited for it to begin to dry and harden, then smeared it when it was just the right consistency creating a flattened texture. I loved the result and began to do likewise with the bottom half of the painting. Before it reached the perfect stage, I had to rush out. No worries, I told myself, it will give the paint time to dry, and when I return I’ll do the technique. Alas, I came home later than expected, and it was too dry to manipulate. Though I pressed and scraped, the paint would barely move. The rough texture looked completely different.

Interestingly enough, without my saying a word, everyone who looks at the painting likes those parts the best—the mistake. They think it’s bold and has the most character.

The same is true with our lives; beauty is forged from accidents and mistakes. Character is hewn out of hardship. When it seems circumstances can’t be budged or smoothed, and there’s no sketch to follow, the creator is fashioning our lives—and us—into a work of great beauty despite our mistakes and meddling.

Sometimes, we think our lives might be impossibly messed up, but God’s grace and love creates beauty from ashes. Our blunders and flaws, and various rough patches inflicted upon us, aren’t a surprise to him. If we let him, God even fashions them to form within us strength, boldness, and remarkable beauty. When he looks at us, he can already picture the finished piece.

Until then, we are unfinished works in progress awaiting the day we become masterpieces.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

~ Isaiah 61:1-3