Tony Campolo tells of a study done years ago by a group of sociologists. They interviewed a large number of people, and the only criteria to be chosen for the study was that you had to be at least ninety-five years old. They were asked this one questions: If you could live your life over again, what would you do differently? One of the most common answers of this group of elderly people was, “If I could go back and live my life over again, I would have taken more risks.”
What strikes me with this answer is that these people in their twilight years realized what a mistake it was to play it safe over the course of their lives, because they were afraid to fail. If you think about it, most of the great accomplishments in life are the result of people willing to step out of their comfort zones into the unknown, knowing that failure is a possibility.
In the work I do with men, I have concluded that the fear of failure paralyzes most men. It is like a psychological death. Larry Crabb says that men try to arrange their lives so that everything is predictable and under their control. They pursue endeavors where they feel competent and hide their inadequacies, avoiding what they fear and thereby creating a feeling of safety.
However, have you ever thought about how God sees failure? I contend it can be one of the great blessings of life, depending on how we respond to it.
I love the way the great Swiss psychologist Paul Tournier puts it:
“Only rarely are we the masters of events,” he [Tournier} says, “but (along with those who help us) we are responsible for our reactions.” In other words, we are accountable for the way we respond to the struggles we encounter. Tournier believed that a positive, active, creative response to one of life’s challenges will develop us while a negative, angry one will only debilitate us and stunt our growth.
In fact, Tournier believed that the right response at the right moment might actually determine the course of a person’s entire life. He found that quite often humans are presented with rare opportunities to develop and grow through hardship and trial – particularly failure.
The Bible is quite clear about the importance of persevering and how it shapes you as a person. The best example of this I have seen is Abraham Lincoln, who was apparently quite a student of the Bible. Lincoln tried and failed many times over the course of his political career as depicted in this timeline.
1833 – Started a business that failed.
1836 – Suffered a nervous breakdown.
1843 – Defeated for nomination to congress.
1846 – Elected to congress but lost nomination 2 years later.
1854 – Defeated in attempt to win a seat in the U.S. Senate.
1856 – Defeated for nomination to be Vice President.
1858 – Again, defeated in U.S. Senate race.
In 1860 he was elected President of the United States and is considered by many to have been our greatest President. It makes you wonder if he ever considered himself a failure, a loser. I cannot say for sure, but look how he persevered in the midst of defeat. This should be of great value to each of us. Though no one wants to fail, maybe when it does come, it can serve a purpose as it shapes and molds us into the people God designed us to be.