Human existence is characterized by initiative, decision-making and toil, aimed at fulfilling objectives. Unlike animals that are instinctive and at any point of time have a very limited number of objectives and activities to accomplish them, man is unique in having infinite possibilities in front of him. He takes decisions using his will and then applies initiative to start an activity with a desired end result. When he accomplishes his objective, he comes away satisfied, makes an impact on the world around him and reaps the reward of his labor.

Failure is an inability to achieve the desired end result. What he hoped to achieve does not materialize. This has in impact on his ego, which is closely linked to his initiative. The more the ability to generate an initiative, the more the ego and hence the pain involved in the failure. While a lion that fails to catch a deer after a long chase will sure feel tired, he would hardly find his ego affected and when he regains his strength and a new deer wanders close by, he will instinctively do the chase again. However for a man, the failure is an attack on his personality and his impression of self and he requires much more than instinct to start again.

Man’s failure is also noticed by those around him. And the fact that those around notice his failure, compounds the effect of failure on the subject. This is because in a way, life has an element of performance attached to its toils. Appreciation from others is part of the reward that man looks forward to in his toil. Now a lion would scarcely look around him and see if other lions are watching him before giving the deer a chase. And if he does manage to nab the deer, the reward is not in other lions applauding but in managing to eat a good meal. Sure, he would need to look over his shoulder to see if a bigger lion is coming to take away his meal. But a lion would scarcely chase a deer or give up hunting a deer just because other lions are watching. Not so with humans- the fact that performance and recognition is integrally tied to reward means that a lot of what we do or don’t do is also determined by public opinion, peer pressure and the value system generated by recognition from the world around us.

So failure does leave a great impact on the person going through it. No one wishes or plans for failure. No one enjoys going through it either. But failure is in many ways unavoidable. Be it a relationship gone sour or a career that fails to take off, a ministry that fails or obedience to God that fizzles, a decision that bounces or a task that starts but never finishes, we come across failure in various forms. And being much more complicated than a lion hunting for his meal, we end up reacting to failures in such a way that we can be paralyzed, with no strength to move on.  When confronted with failures, a Christian would do well to recognize that God allows failures and uses them to accomplish His purposes. Also, the attitude of looking forward in hope negates the ill-effects of failures and re-orients a person to remain true to his pilgrimage. Consider Paul’s words,

‘Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus’. (Philippians 3:12-14)

Failure is painful, but easier to bear when we realize that pain generates gain. We will attempt to look at the nature of this gain in the next post.

2 thoughts on “THE PAIN OF FAILURE

  1. Jeevan Kuruvilla

    Nice post. As long as we are concerned about only for what the Lord has assigned for me and do not care for public opinion, peer pressure or the world’s value systems, whatever happens in our life can never be a failure. Yes . . . maybe at some moments of our lives, it may look like we’ve gone through failures. But, the crux of the matter remains our commitment to the living Lord and establishment of His Kingdom.

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