Failure isn’t fun.
Forgive me for stating the obvious. Of course none of us believe that failure is fun. Failure is hard, painful, disappointing, discouraging…we’d never wish for it to happen to us. But it does. And often.
We’ve all experienced it. At this moment you can probably think of many instances where you feel that you failed at something. It’s an unfortunate part of this life, and it really doesn’t get any easier the more that it happens. We would much rather succeed at things.
I usually get very discouraged and upset with myself when I fail at something. It doesn’t matter what it is – if I’ve messed something up, it takes a lot of effort to keep from beating myself up about it. Even if I had very little to do with the actual results.
And it gets much worse if it’s something that others were counting on me for. Making something for someone, doing a task, setting up a date or event…if I fail at something that another person asked me to do, the guilt and shame at failure multiplies hugely.
Failure is tricky. Sometimes it happens because of something we did – or didn’t – do. Other times it couldn’t have been prevented. Life is full of failures, whether we caused them or not. We deal with many of them throughout our daily lives, big and small.
Sometimes these failures truly are our fault. We could have tried harder, worked smarter, made better choices…and our errors caused something to happen that could have been avoided. That’s never a pleasant realization, but at the very least, we can learn from it.
Other times, these failures have nothing to do with us. They may have been goals that were assigned to us, or that we set for ourselves, but they were never God’s plan, and so they don’t happen. And in that case, I don’t believe they’re true failures. We may have failed at what we wanted to do, but it’s a good thing that we did. We were meant to fail.
It can be very difficult to know the difference. No one likes to either mess up at something we could have done better at, or have something that we wanted to happen fall apart – even if it’s ultimately a good thing that it does. In either case, failure is painful.
In my experience, the only thing that helps is realizing and remembering that God is still in control. No matter how badly I mess up. No matter how upset I am at myself, or someone else is at me. He’s still in control, and as long as I tried my very best, dwelling on the past and remaining trapped in guilt and regret is only going to keep me from doing His will in the future.
Many of my most valuable life lessons have been learned through failure of some sort. Either because of something I could have done better at (I should have paid better attention, been more careful, showed more compassion, etc.), or because I didn’t listen for God’s leading and rushed ahead with my own plans.
Through failure, I’ve learned to slow down and listen to all the directions before doing something. I’ve learned to think through what I’m about to say, and consider what another person is going through when they say or do something hurtful. I’ve learned to be more diligent, more observant, more honest, and more vulnerable.
I’ve also learned that it’s always – always – better to seek the Lord’s direction before acting. Even if it’s for the smallest decision. Though I can only say I’ve heard Him speak in obvious ways several times, even just the choice to slow down and listen for His guidance helps me to think through my options before choosing. And I believe that’s one of the ways that He helps us determine what to do. It’s not often in big, dramatic ways that He speaks.
We may not always know whether we failed because of something we did wrong, or simply because God knew we needed to learn a lesson. But with every failure comes a choice: will we trust God in the midst of it, or not? When our plans don’t work out, will we choose to believe that God is still in control and that His plans are unchanging? Or will we panic and stress and continue to try and work it all out on our own strength?
As long as we’re taking the time to consult God before acting, I believe that it’s better to try to do what we believe is right and fail, than hide and never do anything for fear of failing. That’s hard for me to say, as I hate messing things up. But if we never try, how will we learn?
In addition, what we consider to be failures isn’t always the case. It may just feel like a failure to us because we had plans that weren’t God’s. In reality, God may have wanted this to happen and planned it all along. We might not ever find out the reasons behind it or the impact it has on others, but we can always seek to learn from it. We can always use it as an opportunity to grow in faith and trust Him even more.
To me, whether failure happens because of something I could have done better, or whether it’s because I tried to carry out plans that weren’t God’s, the only consistent option is to trust God with it. I need to do my best to determine what the right course of action is, and give my all to that course – but if I’ve done that, the results are up to God.
Maybe I’m meant to learn something. Maybe someone else is meant to learn something. Maybe my ‘failure’ is keeping something horrible from happening. Maybe what I’ve experienced will come into play years down the road and impact someone’s life for the better. Rarely do we know exactly how God is using the disappointing events.
Isaiah 55 says of God: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
God is in control of every aspect, every detail, every moment of our lives. Whether we feel we’re succeeding or whether we feel we’re failing. Whether life seems to be going smoothly, or whether it seems to be falling apart. Whether we think we know what we’re supposed to be doing, or whether we don’t have the faintest idea. God always knows, and He will never allow anything to happen that can’t ultimately be used in His perfect plan.
That’s encouraging to me. Even though that means I have failed (or at least felt like I’ve failed), and will continue to. It gives me peace knowing that it’s not up to me, and that as long as I do my very best to follow God’s will, I can’t ruin His plan.
It’s tempting to me – especially in months like I’ve had recently, where nearly nothing I’d tried to accomplish actually happens – to feel like a big failure and give up. But remembering that God is ultimately in control motivates me to continue seeking His will, trusting Him, and surrendering my own plans enough to be okay with whatever happens.
He’s always going to be there to help us learn, grow, and do His will. He’s not expecting us to figure it all out on our own, be completely perfect, or make the plans. He’s only asking us to remain close to Him and give it everything we can. As long as we’re doing that, can we actually even fail? I don’t believe so.
As with everything in life, I still have much to learn about failure. Especially as it’s something that occurs pretty much on an every day basis. But I’m doing my best to keep growing in knowledge and faith, and today, I wanted to share some of my favorite quotes about failure, as they’ve helped remind me to keep trusting God in hard times. I hope they inspire you as much as they inspire me.
1. “Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.”
(C. S. Lewis)
2. “Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.”
3. “What is God’s remedy for dejection at apparent failure in our labors? This – the assurance that God’s purpose cannot fail, that God’s plans cannot miscarry, that God’s will must be done. Our labors are not intended to bring about that which God has not decreed.”
(A. W. Pink)
4. “One who faces his own failures is steadily advancing on the pilgrim’s way.”
5. “To dwell on the past simply causes failure in the present. While you are sitting down and bemoaning the past and regretting all the things you have not done, you are crippling yourself and preventing yourself from working in the present. Is that Christianity? Of course it is not.”
6. “Admit your mistakes. Your primary instinct will be to downplay the failure, but instead, choose to be honest about who you are. Failing to admit your mistakes will create false illusions for yourself and those who know you. If people are going to recognize God’s work in your life, they have to see the work of Christ in you in both the ups and the downs.”
(Dr. David Jeremiah)
7. “A dead-end is only the end of your road if you fail to turn around. Too many people needlessly waste time and energy trying to find a way across a dead-end street. Stop, turn around, and ask God for directions to get to where you were going in the first place. Recalculate!”
8. “Failure means I dared try.”
9. “We can rest in knowing that God will never fail us when we walk with and look to Him.”
10. “It is easy to lose heart when you face trials, setbacks, and failures. But failures in life do not need to define you. Rather, you are defined by your God-given identity of disciple. As long as you remain in Him, you continue to be defined by Him, not by any failings.”
(Dr. David Jeremiah)
As much as I wish it wasn’t, failure is a regular part of our lives. We all experience it, we all have to work through it, but – thankfully – we are all children of a God who will never leave us to deal with it by ourselves. We may fail and experience disappointments, but He never fails, and nothing happens that He hasn’t allowed for His purposes. My prayer for us is that we’ll always trust and remember that He’s with us – no matter what’s going on in our lives.
Did any of these quotes speak to you today? Go ahead and let me know your favorites in the comments, as well as if there is a certain topic you’d like to see more quotes about. While you’re there, I’d love to hear something YOU’RE learning about failure!
The Lord makes firm the steps
of the one who delights in Him;
though he may stumble, he will not fall,
for the Lord upholds him with His hand.
(Psalm 37:23-24 NIV)
1. I shared more of my quote collection in many previous posts, which you can find here.
2. To receive your own printable pages of the above quotes (and the ones used in my other ‘Quotes’ posts), sign up for my email list! Simply fill in the form here, and I’ll send you PDF copies of the quote collections – as well as an inspirational short story. I look forward to hearing from you!