My flesh and my heart faileth, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26
A few months ago, I had a conversation with an old friend that impacted me. From a young age, he was on the path to success; having a strong moral compass, being academically driven, and talented in many areas. He was the “golden child”, the one everyone voted most likely to succeed! And he has succeeded, holding various leadership positions in his profession. Yet, he shared with me that he wished he had been allowed to fail on some level as young person. The pressure of being “perfect” and successful never gave him the opportunity to find beauty in failure. It is something that he will allow his children to experience: beauty in the context of failure.
Beauty in failure sounds paradoxical. Even the word failure sounds final and cacophonous to our ears, blaring loudly for everyone to hear! Most of us can vividly remember a time when we failed. When we were young we cringed at the red ink scrawled across our school papers. As adults, we cover our failures by saying it’s “a career change” or “a new direction”. We openly share our successes on social media, but downplay our shortcomings. Personally, I am inclined to post pictures of the colorful Korean tacos with the Asian slaw, hoping to tantalize people’s taste buds, but quickly dump the bland Kielbasa cabbage soup with no opportunity for Facebook comments.
Some failures can become humorous family legends. One Collins’ family legend is the time I planned a family excursion to Baltimore. My teens didn’t want to go, preferring to stay in their rooms on a cold winter day. My husband was reluctant, not particularly impressed with Baltimore’s tourist attractions. Yet, I persuaded, cajoled, and then bribed my family, enticing them with a free bookstore and yummy food. The bookstore turned out to be in a sketchy area with the odors of urine and alcohol permeating the shelves, prompting us to douse our hands in sanitizer as we left. Still in the sketchy area, the restaurant I had picked was a little too “hippie” for my husband, a neon purple and green building surrounded by abstract lawn ornaments. The next restaurant I found was a pricier BBQ joint with food that tasted like frozen pulled pork that had been under the heat lamp way too long. I was desperately trying to redeem the day when I saw the flashing neon light of a donut shop. My family loves donuts and I thought we could end the day on a high note with a sugar rush; forgetting the smell of urine, toxic colors and bad BBQ! The first sign that this high note wasn’t going to end well was the sticky floor and the greasy-looking teenager behind the counter. Yet, I persisted, ordering a dozen specialty donuts. Needless to say, eight donuts ended up in the trash. We now tell this story with a few embellishments and a lot of laughter.
This is any easy failure to acknowledge, but not all failures are displayed for public levity. Recently, I and some people I love, experienced some failures. There was nothing funny about the experiences. It was hard, really hard, to face the failures and deal with the consequences. The details are unimportant, yet, I am sure that most of you can relate to experiencing hard failures in your lives, whether they be relational, financial, spiritual, or professional. These are the failures that paralyze us for a bit and cause us to reevaluate everything we believe about ourselves, others and God.
Yet, if we allow God to walk us through it, we can find beauty in the midst of the failure, as well as on the other side. I found beauty in three specific ways:
- I found beauty in reflecting God’s unconditional love to those who had failed. It allowed the people I love to grow from their failure instead of letting the failure define their self-worth. I believe the compassion others showed them positively changed the trajectory of their lives.
- I found beauty in God refining my character in the midst of the failure. God uses failures in your life to point out shortcomings. In my case, it was pride and self-reliance. Refining gold doesn’t happen by leaving the gold in its natural state. Refining happens by putting it through fire and removing the impurities, so that it can shine brilliantly.
- I found beauty on the other side of the failure. I am a better person because of the failures. I’ve learned about myself and how my life measures up to the nature of God. The failures pointed me towards Christ, rather than leaning on my own understanding. I have also enjoyed the fruits of restoration in people’s lives. It becomes a beautiful place where brokenness is healed and you see growth in relationships.
One of the greatest examples of failure in the Bible is David. He has the distinction of being the only person in the Bible known as “a man after God’s own heart.” This was declared despite the fact he had major life failures: lust, adultery, deception, and murder. This same David is also known as the giant killer, the worshipper, and the greatest king of Israel, all because he had a contrite heart and didn’t let his failures define him!
Before HGTV made it fashionable to re-purpose junk, the Japanese have, for thousands of years, repurposed broken pottery into beautiful art pieces. This art form, known as kintsugi, uses a mixture of gold dust, resin and lacquer to reattach the broken pieces. Many of these older pieces can be found in museums. The process transforms ordinary, broken pottery into a beautiful work that glitters in the broken spots. Friends, I will fail, and so will you! Yet, if we allow God to be our strength and portion, He can create “kintsugi” beauty out of our failures!