Facing Failure, Part Two

Dan opens this episode of the podcast by reiterating that failure is not a pleasant topic. He describes the difference between failure as a verb, something we experience as an inevitability, versus the feeling of failure as a noun. When we enter into the idea that ‘I am a failure,’ we enter into the realm of the human heart. His hope is that we are able to address failure in a way that we not only flourish but profit from the experience.

“Addressing failure requires an engagement with disappointment.”

That disappointment is often in ourselves because failure is relational. Dan presumes we know that learning something of value requires reiterative failure, that anything worth doing cannot be done perfectly well without experiencing failure, and that the more we know about a particular subject the more we realize what is possible and that we, in fact, are not quite there.

When we compare ourselves to others we are inevitably setting ourselves up for some kind of failure. Comparisons are not wrong, but most of the time we do not make them in light of honor and goodness.

“Comparisons create a context of an evaluation that seldom sets me up for honoring who I am compared to who others are, or who I once was.”

Dan defines unnamed expectations as “deep demands often framed in the context of our earliest learning classroom: our families of origin.” These demands set us up for an experience of being able to name ‘I failed’ to the noun of ‘I am a failure.’ It’s this unnamed demand that opens the door to the fact that a lot of our failure and our experience of it is based on what Dan calls ‘“the idolatry of perfectionism.” When we are not able to complete something that’s up to the standards of our typical performance, that comparison ignites our deepest level of feeling like a failure. This is where our own idolatry is exposed. It is then when we worship something we do well that it becomes our “doing identity” rather than a “being-becoming.”

“Our experience of failure is in so many ways often the deepest exposure of what it is we trust most deeply for our sense of self, and that is our sense of self-worth.”

Many times, our experience of failure only opens the door to more failure. When we do not address our idolatry, we begin to avoid, which he hypothesizes most of us do after we ruminate over and over our failure. Most of us cannot sustain this perseverating, which results in avoidance, or if the failure is seen by multiple people, isolation.

“Isolation cannot help but create a third fact, and that is an internal hardness […] and in that hardness comes a commitment to resolve. That resolution can be very honorable, such as a desire to make better the failure that I’ve created. But many other times, our commitment to resolve bears again another form of un-faced demands and expectation.”

Dan reflects on his own sense of failure and the cyclical process that occurs when our hardness turns into self-sabotage. He illustrates his point with an anecdote of setting an expectation not to eat a cookie and upon doing so, opening himself up to sabotage by then eating more. Though eating a cookie is not in and of itself a bad thing, it’s the resulting thought and action that one might as well violate something of themselves, given the fact that they’ve failed.

“In many ways, this is where the reality that our own sabotage is met with the flame and fuel of evil to create this bonfire of the vanities to indulge one in a kind of idolatrous sabotage.”

We must be able to stop and say to ourselves, though I have failed, this is not who I wish to become. There is a need to create parameters where our failure and sabotage are instead sabotaged by goodness.

How will we engage failure in a way in which our hearts become not avoidant, but more present?

“How will we engage failure in a way in which our hearts become not avoidant, but more present? Not isolating, but actually inviting others? Not hard, but allowing our heart to be softened in the midst of our failure?”

“I’ve also faced that with some semblance of awareness that there is a glory and a goodness in the pursuit of the Living God into my own failure, into my own missing the mark, so that I’m not just corrected […] but somehow I’m allowed to enter into the realm of what it means to be beloved in the midst of failure.”

To close, Dan brings to light the fact that there are far more days where cruel winds seem to drown us, and yet they are the very way in which the nutrients of the soil create the ground to be able to grow good things. He invites us to reflect on the question: How then do we move in a direction where we are able to grow?