What is your first thought if someone were to tell you that the best thing that can happen to you is to fail? Our western culture, especially in the United States, is obsessed with winning, being right, or having the correct answer We have seen something of a movement to counteract this driven obsession to be number one where every kid who competes or participates is pronounced a “winner” and given a trophy, usually gold in color. This seems counter productive to pronounce something you really don’t believe is good; why not call every one losers and cerebrate that if winning is not important? The problem with this is that there really are others who are better than us at something; someone is faster, stronger, smarter, funnier, etc. than we are. Realizing and accepting that is only a problem if our identity, our sense of inner worth, is dependent on how we perform, or how much we possess, or what others think of us.
Most mature and responsible adults understand this, at least on a surface level. We hear this message all the time, in our churches, from our psychologists and therapists, even our sports announcers and broadcasters who talk about losing with dignity and grace, “ sportsmanship” they call it. Spiritual leaders tell us our that we find our self worth in the love of God and psychologists say it is in the love of our significant others. And this is true, but to hear it and to say it is not enough. Love has to be experienced in order to know, deep in our inner being that this is true.
So why might failing be the best thing that can happen to us? Because it allows us, better forces us, to experience suffering. It is painful to lose, to fail, but it also begins to open up the door to understanding that we, our self, our I, our ego, is not enough. I am not enough. You are not enough. When we fail, when we stumble, when we fall, we are vulnerable and if our self protective ego does not slam the door shut, we may realize our need to be comforted, accepted, understood, and loved; that it really does not matter what we do, achieve, or perform, that grace and love are enough.
Do you find this hard to believe? Does your experience tell you otherwise that what you do really does determine your inner worth? I would like to challenge you to turn off that voice in your head that is constantly evaluating, judging, and assessing and maybe you can hear that deeper voice that is always calling “I love you.” This is a trophy greater than its weight in gold.
It seems like the only times I desire transformation is when I am suffering. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, spiritual director, and writer says that transformation only occurs in the context of great pain or great love. The point is that we are open to transformation, to changing our lives when we experience something larger than our selves. Think about when we are really open to change, to listening and seeking and hungering for something more. It is most likely, and I really think only, when we are in an experience that we can’t contain, manage, or control, i.e. great pain and suffering or great love and joy. Then we are open to something greater than our current status quo.
This makes it particularly challenging for those agents of change and transformation like religion and the church or psychology and therapists. Most often what happens on Sunday or in the counseling office or anywhere someone is seeking to get at the truth of things, are efforts to maintain and comfort not shake rattle and roll things to the point of uncomfortable dis-order. We don’t like dis-order; we don’t like feeling uncomfortable, and unless we are desperate or ebullient we don’t let go long enough to see things differently.
So the Mental Health profession gives medication and supportive counseling and everyone feels comfortable but unchanged, and the Church preaches positive and soothing messages that everyone shakes their heads in agreement with, but the world remains unaffected by the Body of Christ.
I think this might be something of what Jesus meant when he said it as difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven (which is now not just later) as it is to thread a camel through a needle. As long as we are content and able to manage things ourselves, we are not looking for anything beyond, greater, or different than what we already know; just dull the pain, entertain me and life is good.
So my prayer is: “Lord, please shake, rattle, and roll me into your kingdom. Let my teachers, therapists, pastors, friends, and spouse be bold and hold me to what is true and real so that it disrupts my complacency and brings me to the brink of disordered discomfort where I am humble and yearning for what is solid and true and real. And may I do the same for others.”
There is an important caveat to this prayer. Those that hold me and are bold enough to confront me, I must trust that they love me or I will run from them or attack them. And the same is true for those I am bold with; they must know that I love them. This is no easy task, look at what happened to Jesus.