“This isn’t what I wanted at all!” Tears streamed down my five-year-old niece’s face. She had just opened the first of two birthday presents that I had for her. Unfortunately, she picked the practical gift first—socks. “I wanted a Barbie Swan Princess—not socks!” She threw the socks to the floor and ran from the room. My brother stood to follow her. His eyes pleaded with me to be patient with his immature five-year-old.
He didn’t need to worry. I knew just how she felt. Three and one-half years ago, I received a gift that I didn’t want. My husband of twenty years announced that he was leaving our marriage. My mind and heart were flooded with fear, confusion, and anger. I wrote books on relationships and taught marriage seminars. I literally screamed at God, “This isn’t what I wanted at all!” I felt like a big, embarrassing failure. I understood the lament of the Psalmist: “I called out to you, God... When I’m ‘dust to dust’ my songs and stories of you won’t sell. So listen! And be kind! Help me out of this!” (Psalm 30:8-10, The Message).
God did kindly grab my flailing arms and whisper, “Wait, Sharon, I have something for you—even in this failure.” Since then, I have been in the process of learning that failure is a gift. Yes, you read that right—it’s a gift. Perhaps you find yourself receiving this strange gift. Maybe your ministry is floundering, your work has been misunderstood, your family is falling apart, or you are struggling with depression or anger. I ask you to consider this time of self-doubt, loneliness, or embarrassment as a gift. Failure is a gift to you, a gift to others, and when offered as a gift to God, it becomes available for His redeeming touch.
A Gift to You
Failure is a gift to you because it reminds you in no uncertain terms that you are not God. I entered ministry with a zeal and certainty that God had equipped me for certain tasks. As my life fell apart and I came face to face with my failures, I realized that I had relied almost entirely on my own abilities to get things done. Self-effort will only get us so far and will inevitably result in exhaustion, resentment, and mistakes. Failure reminds us that we are not supposed to do this on our own. We need God. Failure tells us that we are not in control. There are things that we cannot fix or manage. We can wallow in self-pity or contempt for others, or we can let it go, allowing failure to teach us that there are people, circumstances, and things that are way beyond us.
Abraham, the “Father of Faith” floundered in failure—doubting God, making sinful choices, hurting himself, his family, and ministry. God concludes the telling of his story in the New Testament with these words:
If you’re a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don’t call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust him to do it—you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked—well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift. (Romans 4:4,5, The Message)
A Gift to Others
Failure is a gift to others as well, because it tells them that you are not God. We often join a ministry because we are looking for something or someone to save us—from our loneliness, hard marriages, or struggles in parenting. Many well-meaning men and women have put their trust in ministry leaders—not only to be disappointed, but to miss true salvation. For salvation never comes from the side. It always comes from above. The best that we can offer one another is to walk beside each other along the way. If your ministry limped along this year with small numbers, mishaps in programming, or dissension among the leaders—take heart—you and your ministry partners need God. Just as you cannot save yourself, you cannot save others—no matter how much you love them and long for their health and happiness.
Failure suggests that you are human and that you must rely on someone greater than yourself. Ironically, as others watch you walk humbly in your failure and deepen your reliance on God, they will be drawn to you even more! Face it, when we are struggling we really don’t want to hear from someone who has it all together and never struggles themselves. As we express need, disappointment, satisfaction, and joy—all the while hanging on to God’s every word and his strength—we offer a priceless gift to others. We remind them (and ourselves) that we are related to each other through need, sweat, and tears, and that we are connected by the love of God—a love that surpasses all our flaws and foibles.
A Gift to God
When we offer our failures to God to ease, erase, or undo, we allow the Redeemer to redeem. What is most often involved in offering failure as a gift to God is waiting. Waiting after a ministry event flops, while others are gossiping about us, or when we clearly see our own glaring mistakes is hard. It might even seem impossible to believe that something good could be born out of something so painful. But you’ve done this before. The Apostle Paul explains:
The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us, it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs . . . That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us [failure?]. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy. (Romans 8:22-24, The Message)
While you wait to see God’s redemption, allow “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” to be born in you (Galatians 5:22-23). That way, this gift that you did not invite becomes the unexpected means to fill you with the fruit of the Spirit. You can receive failure as a gift and simply say, “Thank you.”
Blessed are the available.
Blessed are the conduits,
the tunnels, the tools.
Deliriously joyful are the ones
who believe that if God
has used sticks and rocks
to do His will,
then He can use us. - Max Lucado
Written by Sharon A. Hersh