Reframing Failure

City Profile With Dramatic Sky. Via Jan Carbol / Shutterstock

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about failure.

Not my failures, though I suspect we could come up with a few.

No, I’ve thinking about Scott Walker’s failed governorship in Wisconsin.

And Barack Obama’s failed presidency in the nation.

And our failed foreign policy.

And the failed Affordable Care Act.

And Walker’s failed jobs policy for the Badger State. And so on.

Then I started thinking about the failure of our political dialogue these days.

When Leaders Let You Down

Disappointed young man, Katarzyna Wojtasik /

Disappointed young man, Katarzyna Wojtasik /

Editor's Note: This post was adapted from Sunday's message at The District Church in Washington, D.C.

Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck writes in his book The Road Less Traveled that one of the stages of growing up is “giving up the distorted images of one’s parents” — in other words, realizing that they’re not perfect. This also holds true for other leaders in our lives. We learn that our political leaders, our youth group leaders, our mentors, our teachers aren’t perfect. This isn’t always a bad thing, because sometimes we feel like our leaders let us down, but it’s actually because we had unrealistic expectations of them — such as being perfect, such as never making mistakes, such as not doing everything you want them to do.

(Pretty much nobody I know does everything I want them to do. That doesn’t make them failures; that makes me have to examine what kind of expectations I’m putting on them!)

So I’m not talking about that kind of let-down. I’m talking about those situations we’ve all experienced where we’ve been let down by some kind of failure on the leader’s part. Just this week, Pastor David Yonggi Cho, the founder of one of the largest churches in the world — 750,000 people, and he’d been pastor there for almost five decades — was found guilty of embezzling almost $12 million . I’m talking about that kind of let down. I’m talking about:

  • a father who wasn’t present—physically or emotionally,
  • a pastor who had an affair,
  • a youth leader who ended up turning away from God.

Those are the ones that are most devastating, right? But it doesn’t even have to be that dramatic. It could be a small group leader who wasn’t present when you were going through something, a supervisor or boss at work who doesn’t listen or seem to care.

In God We (Don’t) Trust

Broken faith concept,  jcjgphotography /

Broken faith concept, jcjgphotography /

The truth is that our faith and spirituality is often dependent on hundreds of different relationships, factors, institutions, and circumstances that we directly correlate with God.

When our Christian expectations are shattered, it’s easy to blame God. We mistakenly idolize the things that are associated with God, and assume that if one of these aspects failed then God failed.

“Christianity” will fail us. Our churches will attack, our pastors will lie, our mentors will manipulate, our friends will betray, and when this happens, our beliefs will be shaken to their core.


Five Reasons Why Failure is Awesome

Fail stamp, koya979 /

Fail stamp, koya979 /

I think we’re terrified of failures for the same reasons we’re scared of death, or any type of palpable ending, for that matter. Failure, at its heart, really is a small death. And who wants to go through that if they don’t have to? I’m not saying that we should set ourselves up intentionally to fail, but I get the sense that, more often than not, the fear of the possibility of failure keeps us from really living well. And really when you think about it, if you never fail, you may never figure out where your limits are. What a boring, uninspiring way to live.

So here are some reasons I’ve decided that failure isn’t just inevitable or necessary, but that it’s actually kind of wonderful. 

Supercommittee SuperFAIL: Raise Your Hand If You Didn't See That Coming?

Image by Hans Gerwitz via Wylio (

Image by Hans Gerwitz via Wylio (

A special congressional supercommittee acknowledged failure Monday in efforts to cut the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion. The panel’s failure was announced in a joint statement issued in late afternoon after the close of U.S. stock markets, which plunged during the day.