• David Flowers

Dealing with failure

Have you ever felt like a failure?  It has been a tough week for me.  I have felt in some ways like I have failed in some important areas of my life.  Since everybody fails sometimes (or feels like they have failed), I want to give you a process to work through when dealing with failure.

1. Say it out loud. “I feel like I have failed.”  This is where you acknowledge those painful feelings.  Don’t skip this step.  It is immensely important.  This is where you acknowledge that your primary emotion is not anger, it is pain.  Failure is painful, and if you don’t start with pain, then what you end up dealing with isn’t failure, but some deformed version of it that you manufacture in order to not feel the pain of failure.

2. Feel the burn. In other words, live with this for a while. At least a few hours. Don’t discuss it with anyone else. Keep your own counsel and let yourself feel the pain. Most people try to push it away by externalizing it. We usually do this by talking to other people about it and letting them support and comfort us and affirm how right we are. But don’t. Just sit with it.  Don’t try to move through it too quickly.

3. During this time of sitting with the pain, pray. Pray with words, and pray with silence. Silence may be best. Listen to your own pain and ask God what you are supposed to learn in this. It requires practice in order to stay open to something so painful, but if you don’t stay open to it, you will either 1) internalize it and drop into depression or self-pity; or 2) externalize it and drop into anger and resentment. The reason more people do not grow spiritually strong is because they cannot/will not do this.

4. Remaining open, decide on a productive course of action (if you didn’t hear anything from God in prayer). Do what you can. Avoid overdoing it, and avoid doing something destructive and unwise.  As soon as you start to take action you will begin to feel better. That’s why so many people, when they are hurting, immediately take action (defending themselves, blaming someone else, etc.). But unreflective action will always be destructive, because it will always seek to locate the source of your pain in other people instead of deep in yourself. You will find yourself reacting against other people instead of acting proactively, and any action we take against others will come right back against us (“with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”), but proactive action we take will come back to our benefit.

Just a few lessons I’ve learned over many years. I’m getting better at this process, but it doesn’t suck one bit less than it ever has.

When was the last time you felt like you failed?  How did you deal with it?

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