By Jim Richman
The memory still wakes me from time to time. I stood behind a pulpit that I had preached nearly five years worth of sermons from. I looked at the faces of people that I had prayed with, counseled, and worshipped alongside. Their expressions varied. Some, cold and stoney. Others tearful and loving. Some even smirking as though this was the culmination of what they had somehow been looking forward to. My tools had been used up. I was used up. I hadn’t cracked my Bible open or uttered a word of prayer privately in over a year because I felt like it was all just a waste. There was little more of me that spoke that morning than a jaded flesh casing.
I unfolded my resignation letter and read; emotionless. There were no sweaty palms or tearful swallows of holding back tears, because there was no doubt it was time. Just a purposeful word for word recitation of the exact opposite of everything I had hoped and looked forward to when I began. I felt as though I had failed. I failed my wife, my newborn son, my mentors, the people of that sweet congregation, and everyone on the fringe who was watching.
The road back to having a normal pattern of life was unexplainably difficult. Sudden emotional breakdowns, projecting frustration on loved ones, and floods of egotistical indignance slowly became the norm of each day. Even though I tried to fight off the nastiness of these behaviors, I was convinced this was who I had become and there wouldn’t be any semblance of stability any longer. I was losing the fight.
The Fight Back
The fight back from my failure began when a dear friend confronted me with some tough love. I was losing the fight because I wasn’t growing as a man, as a leader, or as a child of God. I had become malnourished by the absence of God’s word. I had become embittered by notions of unforgivable guilt and intentional isolation. He called me on it. He said, “You hate yourself.” He was completely right. I hated everything about who I had become, because my identity had become failure.
Then, another brother helped me break through that lie. He reminded me of a powerful truth. My greatest criticism was found at the cross of Jesus. It was there that Jesus revealed just how sinful and wretched I really was. It was worse than I even realized. The fact that I had failed as a leader paled in comparison to the failure that Jesus had to die as a result of. That was the pain, then came the healing. It was also at the cross that God reminded me of my truest value. While it was true that I had fallen short as a leader of a church congregation, that didn’t take anything away from the ultimate victory that Jesus achieved through his death and resurrection for my salvation.
I can’t say that I’ve achieved final victory over failure in life. It would be foolish to try to convince someone it’s even possible. Humans fail. Failure, and the results of it are a harsh and painful reality. What I can affirm, is that if I have any true victory or success at all in this life, it is ultimately because of God’s grace. Most importantly, my greatest victory was Christ’s. It has been applied to me completely undeservedly. So how do Christians fight back from the earthly shell-shock of failure?
Come to Grips with Your Identity.
If you are a Christian, you are forgiven by the one that has the authority to provide ultimate forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is more valuable than the world’s forgiveness or your own self-forgiveness. You have been set free from the bondage of sin by the victory of the Son of God. That freedom is more powerful than the temptation you face. Embrace it. You are no longer an enemy of God. You have been adopted as His son or daughter. What does all that mean? God’s authority is greater than yours. Start falling in love with it.
If you are struggling with failure right now, these truths may skip off your heart like a rock bouncing off asphalt. Keep reminding yourself of them. Keep reminding yourself of the gospel.
Understand Your Ultimate Value
Whose view of you is most important? Yours? Your friends? Your Family’s? All rhetorical. It’s God’s. If God had not loved you, if he had not seen your truest value, he would not have sent Jesus. When we begin to believe our value is defined by ourselves or the sinful world around us, we will eventually fall to that definition. When we are convinced by God’s spirit that the most significant definition of our value is His, we will be able to not only fight back from failure, but withstand many of the storms we may have fallen to previously.
Embrace the Truth of Your Shortcoming and Start Building Again.
When life is interrupted by our failure, more often than not, we can’t just relocate. We have to re-build brick by brick. When we fail, we have to accept that we have done so, in what ways, and then begin building again. Especially for leaders, this is an exercise of humility. We will often deflect blame for failure rather than take ownership of it. This is damaging to our future. Rebuilding begins with admitting defeat and returning to the true building blocks of the spirit, the spiritual disciplines. The very things we may want to do the least, are actually the things we need to do the most. This is the time we need to turn away from our infantile selfishness and deny ourselves the comfort of what is actually sucking the life out of us.
Don’t be mistaken, coming back from a true failure is a fight. As my wife can attest,my battle through resigning as a pastor was a frightening and ugly campaign. Much of which, I had to fight with no one around me but the presence of God. Those moments made the times of prayer with brothers in Christ so much sweeter. I’ve learned more from that failure than could ever be written in a single blog post, but as God always does, he has used that moment, and those that came after as a blessed tool for teaching and reproof.