[Originally published in the Monroe News on September 24, 2021]
It has been a few weeks now since I spent an amazing weekend up in the U.P. in Marquette with my brother. I was up in that gorgeous portion of our state to run a 50-mile ultramarathon. I’m in love with these endurance adventures especially because they are the perfect excuse to visit and explore some of the most wonderful parts of God’s creation. While I had a great time in Marquette my ultra race didn’t go as planned. I did not finish the race. It is what runners call a “DNF”. I failed. A tough mixture of above average heat and problems in my legs made for a shortened day.
In the weeks since I’ve wrestled with what happened that day and have been thinking over and over again about this word failure. Was my “DNF” a failure? I had set out that day to run a full race and hit that finish line and I didn’t achieve that goal. By that basic definition my race that day was a failure. I had come up short on my goal. As you well know this happens in many of life’s events, not just in running a race. We could look at these many goals and objectives we set and conclude that if we don’t reach them it too is a failure. But not everyone would agree.
Though I didn’t reach my running objective that day there was a lot of good that came out of it. I learned a lot about myself. I learned (once again) what it is like to come up short in life and how to deal with it. I also look at my effort that day and can say that while I didn’t finish all the miles of the race I had desired I still ran a long distance. I gained a newfound respect for the trails and hills around Marquette and what an amazing place it is.
Perhaps we can see life’s shortcomings in a similar way. We’re going to fall short. We’re going to fail, often. I heard a wise person once say “Unless you’ve failed at something, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough.” It is a part of life.
As a Christian one huge bit of wisdom I would add to this conversation is that I can absolutely know that my failure in a specific goal is not a failure in identity. I myself am not a failure. My effort on a particular day or a particular goal I have set may not have turned out as hoped for, but I myself am still a child of God. I am a human being, a special creation, a beloved saint created in the image of God and died for by Jesus Christ. I am loved and no failure on my part can ever change that.
Knowing our identity is good and helpful in reassuring us when we do encounter life’s failures. But we also need to understand that not all of life is quantifiable where I can look at my effort and my work and label it a “success” or a “failure”. Take parenting for example. As I watch my kids grow, how in the world would one begin to quantify such an amazing vocation in this life? If my kid were to get suspended at school does that make my parenting a failure? What if that same kid learns from that experience and ends up going to college and excelling in life? I believe we can learn from examples like this and even my own experience of running a race and conclude that perhaps our best move in cases like these is to not even quantify them at all. I don’t parent my kids to see if I can succeed or likewise to try and “not fail.” I parent my kids because that’s my calling. It’s what I do. There is no failure and success it is simply live out each day doing what I believe is best.
Even something much more mundane like running a race (especially if you’re not one of the select elite runners in the world) is more about going out and doing the best that you can do and then giving God the glory for the rest. In fact, that is truly what the life of a Christian needs to look like. The only way I can fail in my Christian life is to walk away from God and faith in Christ. Otherwise, if I live my life with the gifts that God has given me and I live this life to His glory, what else can I do? I can share the good news, I can love my neighbor, I can be good and kind to all but none of that is quantifiable. Nor should I even worry about trying to conclude if it is all a success or failure. Just live. Give God the glory and let our Maker, the one who is in charge anyways, worry about the rest.
So maybe what I’m saying today is we just can’t worry about the results in life. Most of the time we cannot control what happens around us. I could be the most prepared I’ve ever been to run a race and a day of bad weather or a twisted ankle may change everything. I could make my greatest masterpiece of artwork or a piece of music and still someone else may prove even more talented. Life can’t just be about the results. Rather, use the wonderful talents God has given you. Use these talents, these gifts, this life to love your neighbor and bring glory to God. If we all did that, then I think we would find a life much more full of joy and much less worried about failure and success.
To God be the glory.
Mark Witte is the pastor at Grace Lutheran Church. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org