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FIRST-PERSON: Bouncing back from failure

LAKE FOREST, Calif. (BP)–Have you ever made a mistake? Welcome to the human race. It just means you’re alive. The Bible says in James 3:2, “We all stumble in many ways.” We’re all living proof of this verse. But everybody wants to be a success –- nobody wants to be a failure.

Come to think of it, I’ve never met anybody in life who’s said, “My goal in life is to fail.” Everyone wants to succeed. As a society, this puts a lot of stress on us because failure is a part of life. Yet, many people will do anything –- lie, cheat, steal -– in order to succeed. It’s that important. Failure in America is considered the unpardonable sin.

— Failing isn’t fatal.

Because we value success so much, we tend to exaggerate the effects of failure. But failure isn’t the end of the world. You won’t die from it. With failure -– you fail, you pick yourself up and you go on.

One of the best ways to bounce back from failure is to redefine it.

Failure is not failing to reach your dreams. Failure is not having a dream.

Failure is not setting a goal and missing it. Failure is not having a goal.

Failure is not falling down. Failure is refusing to get back up.

If at first you don’t succeed, big deal! It’s usually the second, third or fourth time you actually get it right. You are never a failure until you give up. Remember, everybody fails.

— Failure has benefit.

Did you know that one of God’s primary tools in making you the kind of person he wants you to be is failure? He uses it in your life to mold you, shape you and develop your character. While we rarely learn from our successes (because we typically attribute it to our sheer natural talent!), we can learn from our failures.

We usually think of failure as being a negative experience, but wise people learn from failure and use it to their advantage. They learn from it and grow from it. They use it as a stepping stone.

God often uses failure to educate us. Along the way we figure out what doesn’t work and eventually when we figure out enough things that don’t work, we’re going to figure out what does. Psalm 119:71 says, “My troubles turned out all for the best. They forced me to learn from God’s textbook.” God’s textbook is the Bible and it is often in the midst of failure that we open its pages searching for truth, instruction, comfort, support and encouragement. God seems to be saying, “Sometimes I have to use failure to get you into this book so you’ll start looking and realize that it’s a textbook that I want to teach you.”

When Kay and I first married, our first years together were pretty rough. While we were in love with each other and believed that God had put us together, we were total opposites and simply didn’t get along. We couldn’t communicate. We couldn’t negotiate. Everything was wrong, and we were both miserable. If it hadn’t been for the fact that we were both committed Christians who felt that divorce was not an option, we wouldn’t have continued trying to save the marriage. But we said, “We’re going to make this marriage work if it kills us” -– and it nearly did. For two and a half years we struggled and failed. Finally, we swallowed our pride, found a Christian counselor, and got the help that turned our marriage around and set us on the right path. I look back now and think about some of the lessons I learned in those first years of our marriage. They were lessons that prepared me to pastor Saddleback Church today. I look back and thank God for the failures I experienced because they were learning experiences. God educated me through my failures.

— God’s grace found in failure.

God is not surprised when you fail. He knows it’s going to happen. In fact, he expects it. And even when you do fail, God doesn’t stop loving you. That’s called grace. Psalm 103:14 says, “God knows what we’re made of. He remembers that we are dust.” He knows the frailties of your humanity. He doesn’t expect you to be perfect and more importantly, and he doesn’t stop loving you when you fail.

Often when you’re in the middle of a failure, it’s difficult to see God’s hand in your life. As an adult, Mary’s greatest fear in life was being alone. She didn’t feel that she could function as a whole woman unless she was married, so she designed her life to avoid this failure at all costs. Married to a successful airline executive and enjoying the American dream that included a five-bedroom home and three beautiful daughters, she felt she had it all and could not fail. What could possibly go wrong?

One day her best friend died after a 22-month battle with breast cancer. The next day, her husband packed his things and moved out of their home to be with someone else he said he loved. Mary was shattered. Devastated, she felt she had failed miserably. Even though she was surrounded by wise counsel and Christian friends at church, that time in her life became a blur. Filled with anger and feeling incapable of being a single parent, her failure even took away her desire to live and she contemplated suicide. Eventually, with God’s help and the support and love of her family and church, Mary was able to overcome her failures and begin her life again.

What Mary later realized was that long before any of this began, God had looked ahead and saw the wreck of failure on the road of her life. Knowing what she would face, he fastened her in with the seatbelt of his Word, protected her with a cushioned airbag of her family, daughters and his people, and provided her a window of escape through his love and grace.

Even today, Mary is amazed at how God has taken the most painful event of her life and brought good out of it. She has served as a valued staff minister at Saddleback Church, providing a Christ-centered place of comfort, encouragement and support for women who are struggling with the pains of rejection and failure.

Mary bounced back from failure because she was able to deal with it, receive forgiveness, learn from it, grow from it and let it motivate her. She found God’s grace in her failure.

Bouncing back from failure may not be the easiest thing you’ll ever do in your life, but it’s something that God wants to help you accomplish. It doesn’t matter what failure you’ve gone through or which one you’re going through right now. Big or small, it hasn’t changed God’s purpose for your life. Allow God to teach you, motivate and grow you through your failure. He still has a plan for your life and a place for you in this world.
Rick Warren is pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and author of “The Purpose-Driven Life.”

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  • Rick Warren