Everyone fails. That reality should free us, but it doesn’t. We believe too many lies that keep us from moving past failure to freedom: We believe our failure is unredeemable. We believe failure defines us. We believe it is unforgivable. We believe others caused it. We believe we have to live in the defeat of our failure. And we believe that only bad results from failing.
As you read those statements, you probably recognize the fallacy in each one. Still, how do we shake off those lies and move forward?
How to Move Past Failure
Accept Responsibility for Failing
This is huge. We may have been greatly influenced by someone else. They may have used emotional, physical, sexual, or even religious abuse to control us. Someone may have made choices that limited our own. Maybe they knew important information and didn’t tell us. Or, we may not have been given opportunities that others were given. The list of reasons to blame others for our failure could go on and on and on. I know, because I’ve mentally made those lists.
But at the end of the day, our choices are ours to make and to own, and ours alone — even if we felt compelled to make those choices based on someone else.
Accepting responsibility for our choices and the failure they caused frees us from obsessing over what someone else has done. If it wasn’t their fault, we no longer need to focus on them and what they did or didn’t do.
More importantly, taking full ownership helps us realize that going forward, we don’t have to make decisions according to what someone else thinks or does. We are totally free to make our own decisions based on our own free will. After all, we can’t claim the freedom to make our own decisions while retaining the right to blame others for them.
Forgive the Part Others Played
Even though we realize we have only ourselves to blame, we still need to forgive those who, purposefully or inadvertently, contributed to our failure. Forgiving them is a must if we want God to forgive us for our failure. Jesus made that clear:
“If you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your offenses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
“Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you your wrongdoing.” (Mark 11:25)
Don’t Accept Shame for Failing
Accepting responsibility doesn’t mean accepting shame. Jesus died to remove our shame, and when we ask His forgiveness, all blame and shame is gone. I take great comfort in these verses from Psalm 103:8-14, and hope you can, too:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in faithful love.
He will not always accuse us or be angry forever.
He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve
or repaid us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his faithful love toward those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.
For he knows what we are made of,
remembering that we are dust.
Know Who Your God Is — Redemptive
One of the most amazing attributes of God is that He is redemptive. A definition of “redeem” is “to restore the honor or worth of.” When we’ve failed, the most difficult thought to put to rest is that we’ve lost our worth or honor. It is also the most limiting belief, preventing us from moving forward because we believe we don’t have what it takes to succeed, or that we’re not worthy of succeeding.
The thing is, that belief might be at least partly true. But the truth that trumps it is God’s promise to redeem all things, even our failures:
“And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.” (Romans 8:28 Amplified Bible)
Not only has God promised to redeem and restore and bring good out of everything, He has shown us example after example in the Bible of doing just that. From Joseph, whose foolish bragging led to his slavery before he rose to power and saved thousands from starvation, to the Apostle Paul, whose zealotry caused the persecution and execution of many Christians before he became a follower of Jesus and a prominent leader in the early Church.
So yeah, if you think your mistakes and failures are unredeemable, remember Joseph and Paul and many other Bible characters — Moses, Sarah, Samson, Rahab, David, Jonah, Zaccheus, Simon Peter, and the Samaritan woman, to name a few. Their failures included murder, adultery, prostitution, stealing, lying, cheating, betrayal, disobedience, and literally running away from God. There’s not much worse we could do, and if God could redeem them and raise them up to do amazing things, surely He can us, too.
Glean the Treasures of Failure
I recently watched a great video by Kerwin Rae on our relationship to failure. He says that failure is the key to success. Failure helps us know what works, what doesn’t, and what our next steps should be to achieve our goals.
This is part of how God redeems. He’s given us the amazing capacity to glean valuable information and insights from our mistakes, turning our failure into a priceless education that equips us to succeed.
To make sure we get this education, Kerwin suggests that instead of being angry and upset about our failure, we find the treasures in it. We do this by asking ourselves pertinent questions as soon as we realized we’ve failed: “What am I learning right now? What is the benefit of this? What skills have I developed through this that I didn’t have before? How is this going to help me serve others better? How is this going to get me closer to my goals, better and faster than I could have without it? “
If we don’t know all the answers to all those questions right off the bat (and we probably won’t), they still make us aware of God’s promise to bring good out of everything. Even though we may not see the good now, we will. After all, He’s promised we will, and God doesn’t lie.
The Apostle Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to “give thanks in everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). A grateful heart is open to receiving the treasures of failure, whereas a bitter heart only invites more trouble. “See to it that no one falls short of God’s grace; that no root of resentment springs up and causes trouble” (Hebrews 12:15).
How to Live in Freedom
The Truth Will Set You Free
One of my favorite Scriptures is John 8:32 where Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
When we know the truth about failure we are set free. We don’t have to fear failure. We don’t have to tiptoe around trying to avoid it. We don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to be paralyzed by it. And we don’t have to be wary of others causing us to fail.
While we make every effort to succeed, we know that if we do fail, great things can result as we allow it to become a stepping stone to the next level of success we wouldn’t have had without it. This frees us to move forward, knowing that if we do fail again, it will be yet another stepping stone to another greater level.
Forget What is Behind and Reach Forward
The Apostle Paul — you know, the zealot who made Christians fear for their lives before becoming one, too — found freedom by “forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead” (Philippians 3:13). After Jesus forgave him, Paul never once brought up his former failure except to also tell his story of meeting Jesus and how He transformed his life. He truly did leave the past behind him and move forward into all God had for him.
And that’s what we can do, too. We don’t have to keep wringing our hands, or paying penance, or blaming others, or asking forgiveness after it’s already been asked and received. We can leave the shame of our failure behind us — while keeping the treasures that came from it — and move forward into the abundant life God has created for us out of that very failure.
Don’t we serve an amazing God?