Failure Is Always An Option

Failure is not an option.

attributed to Gene Kranz,
retired NASA Flight Director

I really wasn’t going to mention Derek’s latest blog post. What I had to say, I said there in my comments. But then something happened.

I am very encouraged by the overwhelming amount of support people are expressing toward Derek, with just a few, minor detractors chiming in.

We all have our problems, our failures, and our sins. They become much more public and more powerful when you happen to be a teacher and an organizational leader, especially in a movement as “intimate” as Messianic Judaism, where most folks involved have at least heard of each other if not personally know one another.

I suppose it’s one of the reasons why many of us should not be teachers (James 3:1).  Who wants that kind of pressure, especially if we should sin (and who doesn’t sin)?

I was reading the latest installment at the lyfta på jobbet blog this morning when I came across a link to the article Failure Is Always An Option.

That certainly flies in the face of American particularism, independence, and a “get-er-done” attitude, and it probably wouldn’t have sat very well with the above-quoted Gene Kranz as he dedicated his efforts to rescuing the crew of the ill-fated Apollo 13.

But let’s face it, we’re all human. Failure is one of our defining qualities. Not that we should revel in failure, but it’s arrogant to presume that you or I will never sin.

Yet, some of our sins are rather spectacular and some of our sins are astonishing and shocking when they come into the public light. Some of our sins hurt not only us, but every one we have ever loved.

Even with confession, repentance, and undeserved forgiveness, the guilt can still be crushing.

I’m grateful for Derek’s sake, for everyone’s sake, particularly for my sake, that God is more forgiving than most human beings…more forgiving than I certainly am toward myself.

In the Future Buzz article I cited above, author Adam Singer wrote:

Failure is a beautiful thing, and if you organize your business around it you can gain a serious advantage over competitors who think they’re infallible and spend inordinate amounts of time trying to be perfect versus trying lots of things, failing like crazy, and seeing what sticks. The truth is we all fail, every one of us, and when you really stop and remove the societal stigmas associated with it, you realize it’s not actually a negative.

Granted, this particular message is directed toward a business and marketing environment, and yet it has applications on the social, personal, and religious levels of our existence. If we allow our sin to crush us, to prevent us from repenting, to inhibit the idea that there can be a road back, not only to God, but to our family and friends, then we truly have been defeated.

Failure is not falling down, it is not getting up again.

―Mary Pickford

fallingThere’s a plethora of similar quotes available on the web. I just picked the first one that came up in a Google search.

No one, no sports hero, champion, competitor in any human endeavor, or any human being at all has failed until they allow their failure to result in giving up.

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:13 (NASB)

Easier said than done as I imagine the Apostle Paul can attest.

And yet, it’s not the depth of sin we have fallen into that defines us but how we recover afterward.

Failure is always an option. It happens to us every day. Sometimes it happens with brutal intensity and swiftness, and when our failure is revealed for all to see, it’s easy to wonder how we’re going to survive the shame and humiliation. It’s easy to imagine the bridges have been burned and that our only option is, like Icarus, to fall out of the light and into the darkness.

Failure is always an option, but failure does not have to be permanent.

I can only imagine that it took a tremendous amount of courage for Derek to publicly confess his transgressions on his blog. He could have gone silent and stayed silent, containing the impact to those people directly involved.

No one likes to air their dirty laundry.

I wouldn’t recommend this method, but sometimes it may be possible to lead by starting at the bottom. If you have fallen and fallen far, and can pick yourself back up, by Hashem’s strength and grace, and start the long ascent, the rest of us who witness this, can come to realize there’s hope for us too, as we sit at the bottom of our wells and our caves, buried by the darkness and dreaming of the light.

Great Teshuva

My friend and I are having a disagreement about degrees of righteousness in God’s eyes. Who is greater: One who is virtuous by inclination, or one who is virtuous by choice – i.e. one who must struggle with his passions and transform vice into virtue?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Talmud says: “In a place where a ba’al teshuva (spiritual returnee) stands, even a full tzaddik cannot stand” (Brachot 34b). The idea is that by having sunk to the lowest depths, and then genuinely turning one’s life around, the distance traveled in a positive direction is so great that it even exceeds those who have always been on the plus-side.

Shofar as sunrise(Of course, one would not want to deliberately get into a negative situation, because there is no guarantee of coming out. Further, it often leaves residual stains.)

-from the Ask the Rabbi column

That’s only part of the Aish Rabbi’s reply, but it’s the most relevant part. If a life of righteousness comes (relatively) easy to you, what have you really accomplished? However, if acts of righteousness, charity, and piety are difficult, if they go against your nature, if you have to struggle everyday to do good or to recover from some monumental failure, how much greater will your success be than your failure?

12 thoughts on “Failure Is Always An Option”

  1. In the book “Sotah” by Naomi Ragen, there is a memorable scene where an Orthodox woman, who was expelled from Israel by the Morals Patrol for presumed adultery, comes back and lodges with her sister. In the dawn of her first day back, she wakes to find her brother-in-law, a real tzaddik, puttering around getting ready to go to the yeshiva to study. She apologizes to him for putting him in a rough spot with her presence in his house. Yaakov says, basically, “In the place where a ba’al teshuva stands, even a full tzaddik cannot stand. Please, I am not the Western Wall, you don’t have to weep to me. I am just a man, struggling every day.” I loved his grace, his kindness (in other parts of the book as well). And in the end, Dina was restored to her husband and all was better than before. Great book. When I first read about Dina going to the mikveh before her wedding, I wept …. it was such a picture of the Bride.

    1. That was a beautiful and poignant image, Michele. Thanks for sharing it here. I’m reminded of something written by Rabbi Abraham Twerski I read just today:

      The dignity of a human being is extremely important (Berachos 19b).

      The Talmud refers many times to the importance of preserving human dignity.

      In Generation to Generation (CIS 1986), I related how my father used to discipline me when I was a child. When I did something wrong, he would shake his head and say, “Es passt nisht (This does not become you).” In other words, I was not bad for having done something wrong; I was too good to do something that was beneath my dignity. This method is an excellent way to discipline children without making them feel they are bad.
      People share certain biological behaviors with animals, but our mental life is unique to us. Clearly, human dignity does not reside in that part which is animal, but in that part which is distinctly human: the rational mind, the creative mind, the capacity to be spiritual.

      Isn’t it simply beneath our dignity to indulge in those behaviors which are primarily animal, rather than uniquely human? As I observe the enormous efforts made and expenditures invested in catering to taste buds, I wonder, “Where is our self-respect?” Granted, we must eat to stay alive, and eating tasty foods may indeed enhance digestion. Still, is it not beneath our dignity to indulge in gustatory delights to the extent that we appear to be more concerned about stimulating our tongues and stomachs than our brains? People who honestly value the truly human part of themselves – their rational and volitional minds – have other priorities.

      Today I shall…

      rethink my priorities and behave with the dignity that I owe to myself as a human being.

  2. Great read and very thought provoking. Makes me understand the power of Proverbs 24:16 For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again… and 2 Corinthians 4:9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. I too am grateful and pray that HaShem will renew, restore and return those who experience, failure, confess and turn. He will hear.

  3. “I can only imagine that it took a tremendous amount of courage for Derek to publicly confess his transgressions on his blog. He could have gone silent and stayed silent, containing the impact to those people directly involved.”

    Once, the youth pastor’s wife approached me to confess and apologize for the ill thoughts she’d harbored towards me. When she was done, she felt much better. The burden however, was now mine because I had no idea she didn’t like me. So, I was left to wonder why she didn’t like me, what had happened between us and when, etc.

    I think we should be careful about placing the weight of our sins upon shoulders that cannot, or should not, bear them and be wise about who we share them with. Although I know this is now seen as old fashioned.

    Sadly, I’ve seen little to no mention in all of this about his wife and children. It is devastating to be cheated on. Children, depending on their age, often become derailed, lose their footing and faith, and go on to make destructive decisions. I’ve seen it many times…beautiful and faithful families ruined by an unfaithful parent, even if the marriage is salvaged. I hope that Derek is healed and becomes a better man, as he said is his goal, but I also pray for his wife and kids. They have a lot to deal with, especially now that the world knows.

    1. I have no idea what’s going on with Derek or his family besides what he’s written on his blog, but it makes sense to believe that he would want to shield them from public scrutiny by focusing all eyes on him, so to speak, rather than bring his wife and children into it. They are most likely suffering the aftermath of all this and should be spared exposure in the blogosphere.

      Since Derek was/is a “public figure” in Messianic Judaism, his behavior has ramifications well beyond his immediate family or even his (former) congregation. He apparently has turned to Hashem as well as to human authorities to which he is accountable for his recovery and return, so I can believe he has sought and is receiving counsel. I think I understand why Derek chose to “go public” with his confession, and knowing I’m far from perfect, I choose not to condemn him. How many “religious leaders” have fallen into sin, been exposed, and continued on unrepentant? That Derek chose to confess his transgressions and to enter into a plan of correction and teshuvah is the right thing to do. My only contribution is the prayer that Hashem be with him and guide him upon that path to his return to God.

  4. Thank you for your kind words, Benjamin. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are all dependent on God’s grace and mercy for our very lives, or as Paul put it, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

  5. While I would not condemn anyone…heaven forbid….I find myself also thinking of wife and kids…how will they deal with this situation…who is available to console them…who will soften the pain for them…none other than G-d Himself can do this and while we think we know all answers I would suggest we really don’t. Time may make surface healing appear but down deep…it doesn’t take much to be a reminder!
    What does Repentance look like in this day and age anyway.

  6. @lyftapa…

    …came to think about how not everything works out according to plan. personally, I think it is useful to remember that failure is always an option. this might hold some merit with regards to lifting stuff, but I’m thinking about the slightly bigger picture. at several different timepoints in the past, I was really sure that I had it all figured out. turned out I was generally wrong. however, all those things I did wrong has paved my path to the present. enough zen for one day.

    went to lift… this morning.

    And here is the linked article meditation blogger james/you referenced:

    I mourn over the lack of clear thinking in Christianity. I don’t think of myself as a Christian, although I have been influenced by Christianity in a nation populated largely by Christians (or people who think they are Christians while they really do not concur with Constantinian or later, middle age, values). Further, I would emphasize the lifter’s word: slightly. When reading the article at the link he familiarized James (and other online readers) with, one can see the lifter really did reach with the link relatively slightly. In contrast, the “morningmeditations” blogger here reached far more than slightly and beyond “Zen.”

    He additionally followed the link to the link (as well as the direct link) with, “That certainly flies in the face of American particularism, independence, and…”

    I disagree that the article flies in the face of freedom and so on. It is, rather, an outgrowth over time and experience of growing independence and particularism in the American experiment.

    Now, go to the link and put in words representing marriage, relationships, sin (actual SIN, not failure at selling stuff) to determine the comparison here is a sad stretch.

  7. I should have either used quotation marks or italics for my opening quoting: two paragraphs, ending with the short, lift… this morning.

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