Dealing with Failure

“Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.”

This famous quote is from “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived” or, as he’s better known, Ted Williams.  What he’s referring to, of course, is that if you get a hit 30% of the times you come to bat in baseball, then you’re a good player.

But think about that for a minute.  Ted Williams, widely considered one of the best, if not the best, hitter in baseball history got hits 34.4% percent of the time.  But the flipside of that stat is that he didn’t get a hit 65.6% of the time.  That’s a ton!

Ted Williams failed to get a hit almost two thirds of the times he went up to hit as a professional baseball player.  Francis Vincent, a former commissioner of baseball, said it best: “Baseball teaches us, or has taught most of us, how to deal with failure.”  So the secret to Ted Williams’ success, and that of any baseball player, was that he learned how to get past failing so that he could be his best during his next at bat.

Here’s the point: Are we able to do that?  As people, as leaders, as followers of Jesus, as missionaries in our neighborhoods, can we fail, learn from it, putting it behind us and trying again?  And how do we do this well?

Jesus taught his disciples how to fail.  Read Jesus’ words from Luke 10:10-11: “But whatever city you enter, and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, ‘The very dust of your city which clings to us we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you.’”

Here’s the backstory: Jesus wanted to give some of his followers a task, so he trained up 72 of them to enter cities that he was planning to go to later.  They were supposed to do the same kinds of things that they had seen Jesus do, namely healing the sick and proclaiming the kingdom of God.  But Jesus knew that they wouldn’t be welcomed everywhere they went, so he prepared them for failure.  He told them to put the failure in the rear view mirror and move on.

Jesus’ words are true but so very hard to live out.  At least they are hard for me to live out.  When I fail at something it hurts me.  Maybe it’s because I secretly serve an idol of perfection.  Or maybe its because when I fail at something I interpret it very personally.  Either way, it’s hard for me to move on.

But how can we wipe off the dust of failure and continue following Jesus wherever he leads?

  1. Acknowledge the failure quickly.  It doesn’t do anyone any good at all to let failure fester.  We need to admit that we have failed so that we can begin to heal.  Why hide it?
  2. Apologize and mean it.  If it is your fault that you failed, apologize.  If your failure hurt anyone else, apologize.  If you think your failure hurt no one, then admit it in your journal, on facebook, on your blog, wherever.  We must take responsibility for our failures!
  3. Take time to process feelings.  When you fail you might get bombarded by a series of strong emotions.  You’ll probably be angry, nervous, scared, and frustrated.  Or you might be glad that you failed at something because what was on the other side of success looked pretty daunting.  Whatever it is you are feeling, well, feel it.  Give yourself time (but not too much time!) to experience what you are going through and be honest with yourself and those close to you.
  4. Learn from the failure.  What good would failure be if it didn’t teach us well?  So when we fail we need to take stock and learn from it.  Perhaps there’s some way to prevent the same failure from happening again?  In order to find that out, you’re must learn from it.  Or perhaps God is using your failure to teach you one thing or another, like reliance on him, patience, and humility?
  5. Get moving.  There’s no better road to mediocrity and boredom than wallowing in failure.  Instead you have the chance to work through steps #1-4 and then to take the huge leap of faith into the great unknown.  To put it differently, we can’t follow Jesus well if we stay put and mope.

How have you learned from failure?  Let me know in the comments below!