Failure and Freedom

I’ve blown it again. Now what do I do? Now where do I turn?
It’s the choice after the choice.
And in many ways, it’s the biggest choice of the two.
And what I do with it will determine my destiny...


Let me be honest… I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded in my life. And not just on the simple things like fixing a flat or throwing a perfect spiral. Or even more important external things like managing my finances or landing a good job. I’m talking about the biggies- marriage, fatherhood, anger, lust, anxiety and despair. In fact, it seems like I have an easier time even remembering the big failures in my life more readily than I do any successes.

And I know that I am not alone in this. In fact, I bet that any man (or woman) willing to take an unfiltered and honest assessment of where he spends a lot of his mental, emotional and spiritual energy, it would be in the shadow of a failure. I’ve read countless stories of men who, on the outside, appear to have success. Whether in business or sport, in fame or fortune, whether Christian, religious or otherwise, these men seem to have overcome the shackles of failure. Yet, when you read more of their story, you see threads of drivenness… drivenness to escape or overcome failure. So even in supposed success, failure or the fear of it is really what’s driving them instead of some kind of living out of fullness of Life.

Unfortunately, this seems to operate, maybe even more so, for many, many Christian men… myself included. It’s as if our beliefs drive us, not to Freedom, but to a life of pressure. Pressure to perform. Get it right. Not sin. Not fail.

As noble as that sounds- striving to get it right- what it doesn’t feel like is Freedom and Life. And there is just one problem with that… didn’t Jesus say that these were the very things He came to bring us? I just recently had a long conversation with a dear friend I’ve known for several years and the number one issue this person deals with on a DAILY basis is a feeling of guilt. Guilt over not getting it right. Guilt over failures. Even though this friend was aware of the struggle, the difficulty of overcoming it seems tremendous, almost insurmountable, to them.

In reality, this friend may be more fortunate than most of us. At least they are somewhat aware of how their reaction to failure is encumbering them and making their life something they must endure rather than celebrate. Most of us live with this same feeling. Maybe we would not call it guilt… but we feel the drive, the pressure. We see the results. That disappointment we feel when we look in the mirror. Or perhaps your someone who prefers to not look. So you’ve either buried it so deeply or lived with it so long that you are not even aware of its operation in your life. I know most days, that is where I’m at.

I’ve found the best way to realize this is to watch what I do, what I think and where I turn when I do fail. Because failure, not success, REVEALS what a man is about. BUT not in the way you think. It’s NOT that a man fails that reveals (because we all fail). It’s what he does, thinks, feels and believes about himself (and thinks God feels about him) AFTER he fails that reveals what’s operating under the surface. It seems to me that the more like a failure I feel after I fail, the more I actually end up failing. It’s a nasty little cycle. I try and try to get it right, out of the fear of failing and out of the fear of what failure will mean about me, and that pressure just builds and builds and eventually overcomes me and I turn somewhere to escape and medicate. I fail in the very battles I was striving to win.

And herein is the sickness but also within it, the Cure.

You see, the root problem is NOT that you or I fail. The root problem, and I am speaking specifically and directly to us Christian men (and women) here, is that we have let our failures DEFINE us. When we fail, the second and more deadly tactic that hits us, is that we believe the messages of the failure. We absorb it. We own it. We take it on as our Identity. We believe that our own actions have the right to tell us what the Truth is.. about us and about God. And that’s the deadly arrow, the poison apple, the quicksand… because feeling like a failure after we fail seems so, well… religious. It feels so… right and righteous. But it’s oh so wrong. And it is the very reason we stay in the cycle.

“As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” goes the wise saying in Proverbs 23:7 and it could not be more true than here.

Because it is our Identity- what we believe about ourselves and who we are (which is inextricably tied to what we believe about God)- that ultimately drives us. And as a Christian man (or woman), who has been given a new Identity, letting failures define us is not only self-defeating, it also stands in the way of the Freedom and Life that you and I want, and He deeply desires us, to live in.

Proverbs 24:16 states that “even when a righteous man falls seven times he will stand up again.” Most of us read that and get the cart before the horse, thinking that it’s our actions that make us righteous or not. But it actually means that because a man is righteous, he will rise after he fails.

And here’s the great distinction, and the Cure… if our Identity is not defined by our failures but instead is ALREADY established by something independent of our actions, then suddenly the pressure of performance is off. Suddenly we can be honest about our shortcomings and issues. Suddenly we can turn and face what’s dogging us head-on because it no longer has the power to judge us, or condemn us, or define us. Suddenly… we are Free.

And a funny thing about Real Freedom… it fills you up and begins to overflow into your thoughts, your words, your actions. Freedom makes you and me… Free.

So how do you and I start that journey or find your way back if you find yourself bound back to the slavery of fear and failure?

It starts with a simple question to ask yourself and God… “What do I do and where do I turn when I fail?”

Do I stand right back up, dust myself off, honestly look at what got me there, learn the lessons, own my parts, seek restoration for any I’ve hurt, then re-embrace my real identity and walk on? Or do I reattach myself to the shackles of fear and failure, hid my mistakes and live in shame?

You CAN have Freedom in the midst of failure. In fact, as a Christian man or woman, it’s the only way He wants you to live.

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