Facing Failure, Part Three

This week, Dan is joined by his wife, Becky Allender, to conclude our series on Facing Failure. Dan and Becky reflect on moments when they have experienced failure and the need we have to address shame in a way that allows us to grow, both relationally and individually.

As he implies in his two prior podcasts about facing failure, Dan acknowledges that there is no way to deal with failure on our own because failure provokes shame, which we don’t deal with alone.

Dan and his wife, Becky, discuss who in their relationship experiences failure more than the other and how they each handle failure differently.

Every relationship is in some ways a context where failure is being addressed or not addressed, or addressed poorly and therefore adding to more.

Becky tells a story about a recent incident she had about a case of mistaken identity involving a neighbor’s recycling bin. To read more about this story, you can read her blog post entitled Recycling, Shame, and Ambivalence. Her mistake, or failure as she calls it, affected every day of her week following the incident.

Dan: So what we’re putting words to is not meant to be “here’s how you handle failure” because in and of itself that methodological assumption that it can be “handled” already is a failure to failure. It’s trauma, it’s shame – no matter how big or small. And the bigger, the greater sense of shame.

The first of what Dan will explain are three things that need to be engaged for us to be able to address shame in a way in which we can grow relationally and individually is: Can we just surrender? This does not mean we give up, but rather we stop trying to escape the problem and simply sit with it. He acknowledges we have a desire to cover ourselves in the midst of our failure and try and find a way out of what we’ve created.

Becky: What I’ve seen you do as we’ve grown older together is to stop yourself sooner than you used to and be compassionate with whatever the problem is, if it’s me, if it’s something that you have failed at. I see less fighting and more “ok let’s work together, what can we do now.

Dan: I think that has come in some measure because you have been very central with this category for our blessing. Being able to say can we stop and acknowledge that there is maybe not a goodness right now, not a goodness that I see something positive in this or it will work out […] it’s more if we will remain open, available, there will be something redemptive that comes through this problem. I think that has been a deep shift from my own idolatrous resolve to actually a deepened sense that shame doesn’t have to so deeply bind me that it keeps me from being able to move into this gift of being able to bless.

But even though he knows this to be true, his mind still goes to how many times he’s failed to get to a place where they can grow together.

Dan: Failure creates a context for learning. Success demonstrates that you’ve learned and that you’re doing something well, but failure exposes that there is a problem in the process and the person and the event itself.

We do not learn from our successes, but we do from disruption which often requires us to begin again or start over.

Dan and Becky then reflect on the story work they have done together about their families of origin, which has helped them better understand and have kindness toward each other.

The third and final way we need to be engaged to address shame, which is that blessing is more than acknowledgment, there’s something to be learned. We need to be able to see our failures and see the grace around them. Furthermore, do we have the ability to ask for help? Dan mentions a crucial verse in the founding of Mars Hill Graduate School/The Seattle School which is found in Mark 9: 24.

Becky: Our failures we take as such shame and want to hide and not let anyone know […] how many more failures have we had that stay hidden when really it could have been a blessing to the other person to have been there at that moment?

Dan: So, as we end, none of us wish to fail and to the best of your own ability to avoid it may it be, but it’s inevitable. The more it matters to you the greater the failure you will encounter, and in that there’s something about the intent of the heart. Not a requirement, but the intent to say “I want to become more of who I’m meant to be” and in that, failure will be a friend that exposes not only idolatry but the path of what it means to walk together.