Something about failure (Getting Past your Past, Part Two)
With just 18 balls remaining in Australia’s chase of 309 against India, as the game reached its crescendo, I faced an uncomfortable truth: I have failed as a parent.
‘I don’t like cricket that much, Dad’, said Molly.
Look, she’s eight, it’s early days, and there’s room for many years of remedial work and education. The game’s not up for either of us; neither cricket nor the love of cricket.
Some areas of failure are that easy to deal with – it’s unlikely to cost me sleep tonight.
Other areas are a little harder to shake. Seemingly indelible.
On the Sunday just gone at The Big Table, we took our second bite at ‘Getting past your past’; this one focussed on getting past our failures and hurts. These are never easy conversations to have nor messages to prepare. Not only do they lay you bare a little, but they’re also pause to consider how far I’ve moved from the stuff that so easily entangles, and how much I’ve embraced and appropriated the ‘new creation’ that God has made of me in Jesus.
When anyone encounters Jesus, there are likely one of two responses: run to or run from. Holiness does that; it’s both alluring and frightening. It exposes us yet, in an encounter with Jesus, this exposure is not for the purpose of shame but invitation.
When Isaiah faces the glory of God in the temple, his response to God’s holiness to exclaim: “Woe is me for I am undone, for I am a man of unclean lips”. Depending on what baggage you bring to the table, you’ll read that and think Isaiah is exclaiming one of two things: “I’m crap, I’ve got nothing”, or “I’m crap, and you’ve got everything”. Those two aren’t subtly different; they’re breathtakingly different.
Receiving the grace gift that characterises the Gospel will come with an acknowledgement of your sinfulness, but a revelation of His great grace. Grace that has acted decisively to declare you a new creation. Jesus places His righteousness on you and calls you holy.
No failure is final or fatal in Jesus, but it is a proving ground for grace to abound in you.
The first thing about getting past your failures, in case you missed it four paragraphs back, is this: stop running and start heading home.
The Bible calls this repentance: turning around and turning away from where you were heading. Hebrews 6:1 describes it as ‘repentance from dead works and faith towards God’. Another of framing repentance is ‘to change your mind about something’. Not “I once thought ‘A’, and now I think ‘B'”, but ‘I once had this mind about something, and I have a new mind about it now’. When Paul talks about the renewing of our minds in Romans 12, I think this understanding of repentance is wrapped up in that renewal.
The process of repentance is to exchange our way of thinking until the presence of His Kingdom fills our mind. It’s a realigning and ongoing transformation of our minds from glory to glory by setting our minds on things above over earthly things. (Colossians 3:2)
To be clear: the repentance that leads to our salvation is an emphatic invitation and exchange. Once and for all. It is our continued repentance towards righteousness (sometimes called sanctification) to which I’m alluding.
If all this feels a long way from your failure, it is. The bigger story that Jesus invites you into is far, far greater than any failure you have ever or will ever have.
In much the same way that we’re strangely comforted by re-applying labels, however, we can also be comforted by reminding ourselves of failure. We find ways of weaving it into our stories and ways of re-asserting our inadequacies. That’s reasonable enough – without a bigger story than your own little one, you only have access to re-runs of old episodes.
When it comes to our failures – and whether they’re moral, financial, social, relational, emotional or physical, they’re all real and valid – the healing balm that God pours over our shame is hope in Him.
Psalm 27:1 says ‘no one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame’.
I don’t think the verse discounts that we may have had failures that cause us shame, but it says that when I bring those to God, he is a safe place. When my hope is in him, I’m suddenly aware that I’ve been included in a story that’s far, far bigger than my failure.
My bigger story is that as I put my hope in the rock which is greater than me, I will not be put to shame. Quite the opposite; in Jesus’ name, I’ll be clothed in His righteousness.
When it comes to failure and getting past your past, there’s also a big difference between Godly sorrow and shame. Godly sorrow focuses on the pain we’ve caused another and drives us to repentance; shame internalises those feelings of guilt to produce far more toxic outcomes.
Godly sorrow leads to repentance and forgiveness; shame leads to imprisonment.
Shame leads to hiding (from God and others); Godly sorrow draws you towards Himself and places of healing in community.
Let Godly sorrow lead you to repentance because whatever you’ve done, you cannot outrun God’s grace. No one has outrun his grace yet and I don’t reckon you’re going to be the first! When Jesus took on the sin and shame of the sin of the world…it included yours, and it included mine. Now, later, and for all time.
If it’s repentance and the willingness to place our past in bigger hands than ours that is at the heart of dealing with our failures, it’s forgiveness that is the heart of dealing with our hurts. That said, I’ve realised that there’s going to be three parts to this rather than two. That’s ok, I’d rather you turned up for a third instalment than fell asleep during the second.
For now, I have some cricket to watch. With Molly.
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