1a: omission of occurrence or performance
b: (1): a state of inability to perform a normal function
(2): an abrupt cessation of normal functioning
c: a fracturing or giving way under stress
2a: lack of success
b: a failing in business (bankruptcy)
3a: a falling short (deficiency)
b: deterioration, decay
4: one that has failed
A lot to unpack in these definitions.
Failure is a word we fear. We take it so personally, and it consumes and defines us. We often jump to number four of Merriam-Webster’s definitions, one that has failed, instead of starting at that first one, part a: omission of occurrence or performance.
March of 2020 onward has been an omission of occurrence of what we expected, an omission of performance of society that we had known. Sure, there are some good things that may have happened in this time, but it’s still too early to be calling these “silver linings” or whatever. We lost so much. And closing in on seven hundred thousand deaths in the United States soon, countless others living with long-term Covid, families grieving the loss of loved ones, whatever insight we might have gained into how we need to slow down from the consumption-driven capitalist white supremacist cis-heteropatriarchal society that we live in—it’s too much.
Too much loss.
Jobs lost, education lost, social-emotional learning lost, mental health crises exploding. For families like my own with a child that has developmental disabilities, there is nothing that will bring back what was lost—and we’re still fighting a system that won’t provide the basic needs for a free and appropriate public education. Failure! Failure! Failure! It’s a klaxon blaring at us.
We read that last line of the definition and it consumes us. We have failed. We are failures.
Failure is not always a bad thing.
Yeah, there’s a ton of people writing about shame out there right now and some great experts, go get some of those books that are selling like hotcakes and learn to let go of your shame, or better yet, talk to your therapist (if you can find one and afford one—I’ve been on a waiting list since January with my insurance provider).
Failure is NOT something to be afraid of.
Look at the second part of that first definition: b (1): a state of inability to perform a normal function, and (2): an abrupt cessation of normal functioning. This is what has happened in the last eighteen months. This has happened to all of us. Failure is not who you are, it is what has happened to you.
I’m going to sit with my failures this season. I’m going to hold this part of me tenderly and share some of the failures I’ve experienced in my life and not jump to number four of the definition and take it on as my identity. I’m going to stick with that first definition, and I will pay especially close attention to letter c: a fracturing or giving way under stress.
Because that’s where we’re at with failure. We can fracture and give way, or we can hold ourselves gently, care for our brains and hearts and bodies and spirits. For Christians, we speak about loving God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength and with all our mind, and loving our neighbor as ourselves as the greatest commandment (Mark 12:28-34). So let’s love our neighbors well by loving ourselves well and caring for our whole being so we don’t fracture and give way under stress, but instead, care for the parts that are wounded, struggling, about to break. Acknowledging our failures helps us to heal.
So I’m going to blog about failure, once a week (if I can keep up, I might fail at that) or until I feel it’s out of my system, because I have experienced failure a lot in my life lately. My novel that I’ve told you all about due to come out this year? Publisher closed. New outdoor church ministry begun during Covid? It’s mainly been my family in attendance. Plan to run a 5K this spring? I walked most of it and still can’t run it in its entirety as fall approaches. Most recently, the treatment and surgery plan for my mom fell through as the chemo didn’t shrink the tumors the way we had hoped. While that last one might not seem as internal, it does feel like a failure, definition 1 b 2: an abrupt cessation of normal functioning. What we had expected was abruptly changed.
But failure is not our identity. It is not mine and not yours. It is something instead that we have experienced, and instead of becoming dejected, I hope to embrace, learn, and heal with my failures. Maybe it will be helpful for you, too.