“Most life-strategy courses focus on how to avoid failure, or at least how to recast it so it can be called success. That makes sense—who among us doesn’t prefer to move only from success to more success? But Jesus seems to suggest another way.
“Jesus says, you don’t have to fear failure. Wherever you are, you can give what you have the capacity to give; you can receive whatever comes. Enter where the door opens; be there for as long as you are there. When you are not welcomed, leave. No regrets. The whole world is your family. Move on. To fear means I am still trying to rule my domain, still trying to make things go a certain way so that people will like me, respect me, yet not demand too much of me. Fear makes me clutch and control. Jesus offers me a much easier yoke to wear. Side by side, we can carry a weight we could not carry alone. We can be channels of the Spirit in ways we could not be alone. What we have called rejection and failure are only catalysts to move us on.” (Kayla McClurg commenting on Mark 6:1-13 in the Inward Outward blog)
Recently I read a new book by historian David McCullough on the Wright brothers and their dream of creating a flying machine. The book details the brothers’ research on how birds fly and describes attempt after attempt to create a motor-powered machine. Working on a seemingly God-forsaken site near Kitty Hawk, N.C., they experienced failure after failure and yet they never gave up. Even after Orville experienced a nearly fatal crash when flying their best prototype, the project went on. They never looked negatively at failure. In fact, Wilbur said that each failure was a blessing because they now knew one more thing that needed to be fixed – whether it was the type of screw or a total redesign of the wings.
A modern example of useful failure is a company founded by Elon Musk, Space X. A widely publicized account the Falcon 9 mission to bring supplies to the space station which ended in flames, the third Space X rocket to fail. What wasn’t widely noted, however, was that the Falcon 9 had made 18 successful launches before this failure. As Bloomberg Businessweek reports, “Since the company started in 2002, it has delivered a propulsive jolt to the aerospace industry by striving to do things faster, cheaper, and more inventively. It’s spurred competitors to slash costs, broken a monopoly on national security launches and even roused some sluggish peers to try building reusable rockets of their own.” This company has learned that failure leads to progress.
We often hear it said that “failure is not an option.” But the Wright brothers, Elon Musk, (and Jesus!) would disagree. Failure is just one more step on the learning curve. If we can’t fail, then we definitely won’t grow. Failure is fear dressed up for public scrutiny. And as McClurg says, fear makes us “clutch and control.” With Jesus we can walk into the face of failure and come out better on the other side. Wilbur Wright died at 45 just as the flying machine they had built was accepted world-wide. Orville lived long enough to see jet propulsion!
We will encounter failure often as live out our ordained days in the Kingdom of God on earth. But we walk in the Spirit who handles the damage control.