Facing Failure

My wife generally thinks I’m a bit insane because of my love for rock climbing. And frankly, some of my students think I’m nuts as well.

What I have come to realize recently is, that when I talk about my climbing experiences, I spend more time talking about the successes than the failures. This is an important realization for me, because the reality is that, in climbing, the vast majority of your time is spent dealing with failure.

Last year Tommy Caldwell made national news for the first successful climb of the Dawn Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite. What was glossed over in much of the reporting on this incredible achievement was the seven years of effort and attempts made prior to the final successful attempt. Imagine trying over and over again for 7 years and failing each time.

And as I said, for most climbers falls and failed attempts to complete a route are far more common than “successful” climbs.

Recently I found myself in a situation that seemed hopeless. I had poured all of my strength and energy into an endeavor that simply did not go the way I had planned. In frustration I just wanted to quit and give up. That is where God really began to work on my heart. There were a number of things He had to say to me. One of the biggest had to do with my attitude in how I approach things I’m trying to accomplish. Am I looking at them simply as things to get done? Or are they things to take pride in when done well? Or am I taking the time to consider what I’m learning and how I am growing through the process?

It’s this last viewpoint that God impressed upon me that I was lacking.  I had begun to take things for granted. When I’m climbing, if I only climb routes that I can successfully make it to the top every time, I’m not forcing myself to improve. None of us want to fall, but falling because I tried is actually a sign of health. I learn more when I fall than when I don’t. Sometimes I make it to the top despite mistakes and that’s less of a learning experience. It can actually reinforce bad habits.

Years ago during a Bible study I wrote down that God’s desire is for us to learn through the process. He doesn’t just give us a goal with no care for how we get there. We are continually being shaped by our experiences. And scripture tells us that the end goal is for us to be conformed in the likeness of Christ. I’m not sure about you but that feels a long ways off because I’m a mess. But if that really is the goal, if that really is part of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, shouldn’t it change how we handle the ups and downs of life?

So, am I willing to face failure knowing that even then God is at work shaping me in the ways he designed me to be? It changes my perspective on “failure” when I can trust that God is actually using it for “success”.

It doesn’t mean I don’t give things my best. It doesn’t’ mean that I don’t try hard. It simply means that I’m actually more free to give my all, knowing that God is at work in the process just as much as He is in the finished product.