You Are Not A Failure
"Failure isn't fatal, but failure to change might be "—John Wooden.
"You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space."—Johnny Cash
Son, you will fail; this happens. But this does not mean you are a failure. The assumption that "you are a failure" is a powerful and defeating thought that can paralyze a man. It's a recording that sometimes plays in the mind that men struggle to silence. It's one of the five powerful voices I believe all men hear (if you remember my previous letter on this subject). I think this is partially because many men falsely believe that to be a man, we must "man-up" by appearing strong, confident, and courageous, even when we feel weak, confused, and lost. This false belief thus devastates men in moments of failure. Which is why when we fail, we sometimes believe we are a failure.
Please note, experiencing failure and feeling the impact is a good thing for all men. The last thing we need is insensitivity to this pain. Appropriate levels of pain, in the form of regret and guilt, are good for all men. And why? Well, because pain is an indication of pending danger. Insensitivity to pain will only lead to callousness and other, more harmful decisions to self and others. Yet, inflicting needless suffering on ourselves by allowing a failure to convince us that we are a failure is also not helpful. While you and I are both sinners, we are redeemed by Christ and given a new identity as sons of God. Your identity is marked permanently not by your failure but by His grace, and your identity is forever changed. Accepting this is sometimes too good to be true, so it's easy for men to go back to the perpetual failure of the former life and the old yoke of slavery.
"...and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery."—Galatians 5:1
As men, we live in this great tension, and here is how I describe it. First, our former identity is marked entirely by sin. In fact, the Bible calls us "sinners." Yes, God's Word is clear; our identities before Christ are marked by perpetual sin. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) So in one sense, and at one time, all men were perpetual failures. We were, (notice the use of the past tense of the verb,) a complete and total failure. Second, yet we also know that "the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23) And this gift results in us having the opportunity to believe in his name, giving us "the right to become children of God." (John 1:12) Jesus also says, "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." (John 15:15) So your identity has changed from sinner to son, from failure to friend. Third, we must choose to live in this new identity as sons and friends. Yet we know, the voice of the past will call to us. In moments of failure, we will be tempted to listen to the voice of the former man and the old identity. It will call to you and say, "I am a failure." Its call will be compelling and clear because only you will hear its voice within your mind. This voice will present evidence to you from your own life to support your incorrect perceptions. Do not doubt my words, son, the courtroom of your mind will offer a convincing case. And yet, the tension between a former identity and your new identity has a present reality.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.—2 Corinthians 5:21
Think about that and ponder on it for a second—you are the "righteousness of God." Let that set in. That's your identity. You are not a failure. You are instead a son of righteousness.
So the next time you fail your response should be to understand the pain, accept it, learn from it, and then before the failure begins to poison your thinking about your identity, bring to mind that Scripture says, you a "son of righteousness" saved by God's grace. You are not a failure. Do not let that thought preach to you, rather let the truth preach to you. And why should you do this? Because the most important thought about you is not what others think about you, what you think about you, but what God thinks about you. This is the only thought that matters.
As you learn to do this, you will discover something about the fails in your life—that God is up to something. That he is working out something magnificent in you every time you fail. He is teaching you to trust more and more in him. Notice what the apostle Paul says about his perpetual failing.
But [God] said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.—2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Do you see it? Failure gives way to opportunity—the opportunity to trust less in self and more in God. With failure, we encounter grace, discover perfect power, contentment, and the paradox of strength in weakness. For the man who is strong in himself is not strong; he is only pretending to be strong. Instead, the man who embraces his weakness (through failure) is genuinely strong because he is strong in God.
I love you, son, and remember you are not a failure. Dad.
Vince Miller is an author and speaker to men around the world on topics that include manhood, masculinity, fatherhood, mentorship, and leadership. He has authored 18 different books for men and is hosted on major video platforms like RightNow Media and Faithlife TV. He hosts a weekly podcast, writes weekly articles, and provides daily thoughts from God's Word all just for men. He is a 27-year ministry veteran and the founder of Resolute a Men's Ministry Platform that provides bible studies aimed at building better men found at www.beresolute.org. See his latest book and small group study Called to Act: 5 Uncomplicated Disciplines for Men.