Failure is one of the biggest barriers to living a full life. It is a burden many people carry, it is a load that bares them down. It is like a badge that not only shows they have failed but also covers them in disgrace. Others can’t even bear the thought of failure. And so they don’t even try. Fear drives them.
The reality is everyone fails. To be human is to fail. At our absolute best we will all make unintentional mistakes. We live in relationships and inevitably we will let someone down. Just this morning I accidentally took my wife’s phone with me. I could hear the frustration in her voice.
I struggled handing in assignments when I was at school. It wasn’t because the work was too hard, but because they weren’t quite perfect. The problem with perfectionism is it is rooted in a fear of failure. And this is dangerous. But your failure doesn’t have to define you.
Jesus and Failure
John 4 tells the most beautiful story about failure. Jesus asked a woman for a drink. This woman knew failure. Some people claim she was a man-eater, I don’t think it’s true. She is a victim of abusive men who pick her up and throw her out with the trash. Her community rejected her. She couldn’t even collect water with others. This woman is defined by failure.
Yet Jesus talks to her. He crosses gender, religious and cultural boundaries by asking for a drink. He notices her and shows her he cares. She begins to realise who Jesus is as their conversation continues. He doesn’t define her by failure. She has a history and Jesus doesn’t deny this, but he offers healing.
People often stop reading when Jesus’ followers return but this is only half the story. It continues in verse 39. This woman goes back to her town and tells people about Jesus and they actually believe her. She isn’t held back by failure.
Failure and Following Jesus
This story helps Jesus followers to understand their failure correctly. We all fail. We all have histories and Jesus doesn’t pretend we don’t. It’s what Christians call ‘sin.’ But it doesn’t have the last laugh. The woman stopped being defined by failure when she met Jesus. This is the heart of Jesus’ message. Our failings leave an imprint on our life, but he is able to remove it. This is what grace is. Meeting Jesus changes us.
Followers of Jesus know grace. They know what it is to be changed by meeting Jesus. Failure doesn’t define them. But sometimes it is hard to believe this. Why? Because even after meeting Jesus we continue to fail. But following Jesus isn’t about being perfect or ‘good people.’ In reality, Jesus followers make mistakes but this doesn’t undo the change Jesus has made. We can keep going to him. Our failure is gone. It doesn’t define you.
Sometimes I catch myself wearing my failure like a kind of shroud. It is probably the first thing people see. And it affects how I see the world. Maybe I need to read the last paragraph again. It is gone! Defining myself by failure is self-delusional. It’s like the emperor from the children’s story wearing non-existent clothes. Who am I fooling most? Now, of course, there may still be consequences to mistakes, but Jesus takes the guilt and shame. I am free! My failures don’t define me. How about you?