WORKING WITH FAILURE
February 4th, 2018, is a day that will be remembered for a lifetime by millions of Philadelphia Eagles fans around the world, myself included. I grew up in Southern New Jersey across the bridge from Philly as such I cheered for Philadelphia teams, and one thing we as Eagles were very aware of our lack of a Super Bowl win. The team that won a few short weeks ago carried with them the weight of decades of disappointment and broken expectations. There are many stories worth writing about in the aftermath of the Eagles win, but the one that has stuck out the most to me and I hope resonates with anyone reading this is that of Nick Foles, and failure.
Nick Foles stood next to the Lombardi trophy, wearing a new Super Bowl LII hat. A reporter asks him about his journey from being a backup player to winning a championship in just a few short years. His answer is a very wise one, and one moored in his faith in Christ. “Don’t be afraid to fail,” Foles answered without hesitation. He went on to comment about how society functions around highlight reels we control and only show the positives and it can be discouraging when we look at others.“You know, failure is a part of life. That’s a part of building character and growing. Without failure, who would you be?” That’s real vulnerability and honesty. That is something that I have been dwelling on a lot since I heard his press conference.
It’s popular to talk about “grit” and “toughing things out”, there is a vocabulary to avoid openly sharing how true failure feels, which require real transparency. In my personal experience there are two main ways people handle failure, to hide it or convince oneself that they can fix it if they just work harder and it’s in their power to correct every mistake. If we hide our failure we present a lie about our life, and if we convince ourselves we can fix everything then we are lying to ourselves. Both are forms of pride and miss the healthy way of learning and healing through times of failure. For any who don’t know, Nick was traded several years ago to the Rams and was cut during training camp, going from a franchise player to unemployed, and in the wake of that he seriously considered retiring from football. Foles only came back to play after praying intensely on the matter, talking with family, and getting a call from his old coach, Andy Reid offering him a spot.
Sometimes there are situations that you can’t work your way out of, or cover up to keep up appearances. It’s the kind of failure that creates despair and a sense of hopelessness. Often failure not only affects our present but also our future, as we can either Nick goes on to talk about why he is so open about his journey.
“I wouldn’t be up here if I hadn’t fallen thousands of times made
mistakes...throughout all of this just being able to share that and be transparent. I know when I hear someone speak and they share about their weaknesses. I’m listening. Because I can relate”
This is why being vulnerable is vital to having a healthy relationship with not just friends and colleagues, but also our family and loved ones. If we approach failure as something that should never happen and if it does it is immediately swept under the rug and never addressed we lose out on huge opportunities for growth. We are stunting our own maturity and not using that experience as something both you and others can learn from. Life is not a score card you attempt to get the best score on, it is a process and becoming what God created us for. The reason for embracing that failure is part of life is that God can use our testimony in tremendous ways.
In my 8th grade Bible class we spent time looking at the many failures of the disciples during Jesus’ ministry, and then looked at the transformation they experienced after they started sharing the gospel. It really is amazing how God used their past failures to prepare them for the immense tasks he intended for them. They did not sit and dwell on failing, they did not humble-brag about them, that didn’t cover them up, they embraced them. James 1:2-4 says “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness, and let steadfastness have it’s full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
One of the wisest men I know once taught on this passage. He made the comment that this set of verses is not teaching that hardship is something we should encounter with happiness but that we should take heart in the fact that if God is sovereign, everything in our life matters. Everything counts. That includes tragedy, disappointment, joy, triumph, and especially failure. There are many parts of life that are confusing and we don’t see how God could use something for his plan. We are called to trust that if God sent His son to die in our place and offers a relationship with him then he would not also have a plan and a use for every aspect of our lives. Foles ended that portion of his press conference by saying, “Simple, if something is going on in your life and you’re struggling, embrace it. Because you’re growing”. At CCS the goal is not only building kids who are high achieving and good citizens, but I hope we can also teach them how to grow in life. If our students can solve complex math problems or write research papers, but have not helped them learn how to embrace and grow through failures in life then we are not really preparing them for the road ahead. That there is a healthy, mature, balance between working to the best of our abilities and understanding that when failure occurs we should also embrace it and seek to grow.