Written by David Kemp

Failure. The very word has the ability to fill some of us with dread, or keep us awake at night as we re-live painful memories. Though its definition is simple (a lack of success), our response to it is complicated, and can take a lifetime to master. But redemption is found, not in learning not to fail, but learning how to respond when we do. 

Let us start with the ‘why?’. Why do we fail?  Theologian and pastor Rick Warren has this to say:


“We fail because… 

…we overestimate our strength

…we care too much about what others think

…we speak without thinking.”


Overestimating our strength

This can be recognised as pride. In thinking we are too strong or wise to stumble, we fail to take the necessary steps to protect ourselves. Sometimes, we don’t want to burden others so we try to do everything. Often, we expect more from ourselves than we would ever naturally expect from others. Ironically, this unrealistic expectation of success often leads to more and greater failure than we would have faced otherwise. 

Caring too much about what others think

As much as we would like to claim this doesn’t impact us, I’ve not met anyone who doesn’t struggle with this in some form. We often feel it most keenly when we mess up, are embarrassed or proved wrong in front of a group. Our response can be anger, defensiveness, withdrawal, and the fear of those situations can cause us to compromise who we are or what we believe in. We fail to be ourselves before we have even started, simply by caring too much about what other think. 

For me, my relationship with God is the antidote to this fear. The joy and journey of becoming the person He created me to be and living with integrity overrides my fear of what others think, allowing me freedom from shame. This is, of course, a work in progress.

Speaking without thinking

The influential role of social media means that this is now a greater problem than ever. Throughout history words spoken too quickly, in anger, jealousy or fear, have damaged people. I am sure we have all been on the receiving end of harsh words, and have equally had times when we wish we could immediately take back what flew out in moments of heightened emotion. But now, with the speed our words can be circulated and the permanence they can immediately obtain, it is more important than ever that we master our tongue.

How often do you stop before you speak or post, and ask, ‘Will these words bring life?’, ‘Will I think/feel the same tomorrow?’, ‘Do I want these words to be attributed to me forever?’. Let us be people that have the courage to process first and not react without consideration.

Overcoming failure

If this is why we fail, we must next ask, how should we respond to failure? 

This could be a whole other blog post, but just briefly….

However we initially respond to failure, it is important to recognize that shame is usually the dominant emotion driving our actions. But there is an alternative.

Acknowledgement, Acceptance and Grace

A common misconception of the Bible is that it is full of saintly figures, those who do good constantly and whom we must strive to emulate. In reality, it is a wonderfully honest (and at times uncomfortable) account of a bunch of humans just like you and me who choose to acknowledge their failures, let go of shame and grab hold of the Grace that God extends to them.