Focusing on Failure
Focusing on Failure

Here’s a Christian Standard editorial from 140 years ago that will apply to most everyone, at least on some level.

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Concerning Failures.

By Isaac Errett
Dec. 13, 1879

We are moved to say a few words concerning failures, by a letter received from a friend, over whose pathway thick darkness has gathered, and on whose head fierce tempests have broken in long succession, who says: “My life is a failure, and I know it; I have attempted tasks for which I was not qualified and have wasted my life in attempts to be what God never meant I should be. It is too late now for remedy, and I must be written down a failure.” This was doubtless written under the wearying pressure of long-continued adversity. . . . But this is not a solitary instance. There is a class sufficiently large . . . whose lives are galled with the conviction that they are successful only as failures. . . . Next in wretchedness and despair to the conviction that life is stained all over with sins and crimes that will not wash out, is the conviction that it is written all over with failure. And, in most cases, this wretchedness and despair are unwarranted.

Granted that, in numerous instances, a mistake has been made in the choice of a pursuit; that many third-rate preachers, lawyers and physicians might have been first-rate farmers, blacksmiths or sailors, and that many an obscure and unsuccessful son of toil might have been, under favoring circumstances, eminent as a poet or a philosopher; what then? Does it follow that life must be an utter failure? By no means. . . . A man who is capable of high success in one department, is capable of redeeming life from utter failure in many other departments of activity; and most of those who fail in the sphere in which Providence has placed them, would have failed in any other sphere. Man, who is capable of adjusting himself to any variety of external conditions—at the poles or the equator . . . to poverty and toil, or wealth and ease; . . . to the lowest grade of savage life, or the loftiest reaches of civilization; is capable of adjusting himself to the demands of even an ill-chosen pursuit, and of wrenching from it a fair degree of success. No situation in life is to be desired that does not compel effort towards better development, and urge one towards the attainment of the seemingly unattainable and—mark it—no life is a failure that makes a heroic effort, against all odds, laughing at impossibilities, and struggles on, even if it perishes in the wilderness without a sight of the promised land. The soul has achieved a success that would never have been gained in a more prosperous life, and the God of heroes will place a bright crown on a brow that the world never decked with its laurels. Hence, some one has justly said, “Heaven is a place for them that fail.”

Much that the world calls success is failure, and much that it calls failure is the highest success. It is seldom given to the man of penetrating judgment and far-reaching observation and reasoning, to be understood and appreciated in his own times. As Longfellow says:

Alas! How full of fear
Is the fate of Prophet and Seer!
Forevermore, forevermore,
It shall be as it hath been heretofore;
The age in which they live
Will not forgive
The splendor of the everlasting light
That makes their foreheads bright,
Nor the sublime
Forerunning of their time!

Judged from any worldly standpoint, the earthly mission of Jesus of Nazareth was a stupendous failure. Not such, however, is the voice of the ages. . . . How often it is that children build their monuments of the prophets whom their fathers slew, because they have learned that these prophets were successes and not failures! And how many before whose path their own generations strewed palm branches and flowers, have perished from the memory of man, or live only to be execrated! Their success was failure.

Let us say that much that is called success results from seemingly fortuitous combinations or circumstances, and much that is called failure is such only because of uncontrollable influences. . . .

Nay, more than this: success is many times no more than the decree of the fickle and unreasoning multitude, who to-day shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” and to-morrow cry, “Away with him—crucify him.”

True success crowns the life that is controlled by honest convictions, and which, in the sphere in which Providence has placed it, has, against all odds, done its best. It is a small thing that the babbling world does not glorify it. The world, taken at large, is a fool, and glorifies fools. It is a small thing that even the successful man himself mourns over the failure of his life. Men can not stand off and look at themselves. “With me,” says Paul, “it is a small thing to be judged of man’s judgment. Yea, I judge not mine own self. But he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore, judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall every man have praise of God.” No true life can fail. No honest struggle can ever be in vain. Whatever the world may think of it, the honest struggling soul receive into itself rich compensations in conscious strength and rectitude, and a felt harmony with the will of God. There are few grander moral spectacles than that of a true soul fighting its way against successive defeats, hoping against hope, never yielding to failure, and refusing, even in death, to surrender.

Let us say, further, that the apparent failure of some is necessary to the success of others. If it be our part, in the drama of life, to appear in the character of the unsuccessful, let us be content to act out our part gracefully. . . . A friend, who has seen much of the world and is a keen observer of men, once said to us, “There is yet one man I have not found—that man who can fail with grace and dignity.”

We do not write these lines to start the impracticable and the dreamy into a new career of failure; but for the sake of many noble toilers—preachers, teachers, Sunday-school workers, patient housewives, and other struggling souls—who are oppressed by this hideous nightmare of failure; who fail to win popular applause; who sow and reap not; who toil underground and lay the foundations on which others build and receive all the glory of the enterprise. Let all such cease to sigh for false inspirations. Let them be sure that they are doing their best in the sphere in which they are placed, and then rest in the assurance that such a life can not be a failure. Let them walk by faith, not by sight; and if they go in sackcloth and bare-footed all the way through the wilderness, let them know that there are green fields and white robes and golden crowns beyond, for the wary pilgrims who have been true to themselves and to God. For cunning success or stupid failure, we have no respect; but for the honest toiler who abides in his calling and patiently does his best, we have unbounded admiration. His life can not be a failure.

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—Jim Nieman, managing editor, Christian Standard

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