The Irony of Failure

Throughout elementary school, high school, and university I never failed a single course. Realistically, most people cannot say this. Most current students would feel some irritation on hearing someone say they’ve never received an F and they should. Failure is a normal part of everyone’s life and we sense that something is somehow wrong if a person doesn’t ever fail.

As did I. As I grew into an awareness of myself, I realized that I had an unconfronted fear of failure. I would see the people around me who had experienced a failing grade and emerged from it alive – alive and with an experiential knowledge that failure is not the end. As crushing as failure may be when it happens, your life progresses and you begin to appreciate how little it effects you in time.

I sometimes hear the comparison made with Arborglyphs – patterns or symbols carved into the trunks of trees. The mark on the tree never disappears or diminishes but the tree keeps on growing and the relative size of the mark shrinks in comparison to the whole.


So it is with our failures. They aren’t ever fun and we may never look back on them and laugh, but when we survive the ordeal there is no longer a mystery as to what happens on the other side. The next time an ordeal comes, you know from experience that you’ll survive. You know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel even if you don’t yet see it.

I never had that experience. I’ve seen it in others, but I’ve never experienced it myself. Part of me used to wish that I could have that experience and in the past year of my life I’ve gotten my wish. Everything about my current life situation feels like failure (feelings of course being fickle and unreliable things, not always to be heeded).

So I’m in the proverbial tunnel. A little later than some of my peers. I’m not sure what choices I can or should make here apart from the obvious choices to keep moving forward and to keep trying. But I do know that once I emerge from this tunnel, the next one won’t be as terrifying.

And it is from here that I reflect on the great ironies of the Christian faith, including its most prominent symbol. The poetically inclined will appreciate that I move from talking about arborglyphs to another “tree”, the cross. An instrument of torture and death became the means by which God offered new life to humanity. And in our day to day lives, our own failures, when properly interpreted, can be proof of our own resilience.

And so I will recognize, in the middle of my personal discouragement and lack of direction, that even this period of my life may be a means of encouragement and insight. Failures are never fun but when we survive them they may becomes symbols and reminders of triumph.


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