It isn’t easy to deal with one’s own failures. We carry a weight of guilt, frustration, bitterness and other feelings about with us. No one likes to fail. Second, we don’t like those close to us to fail. It’s a distressing thing to deal with.
While it is difficult to handle personal failure, it is even harder to deal with the failure of another person, especially one who is very close to us. We need to have resources to cope with the failures of those close to us. This is an effort to give you some ideas and resources for coping with such failures.
There are several types of reactions when we experience failure in ourselves or in others. We fear, fantasize, flee, retreat into the past or hope for a better future. These reactions are the same for dealing with personal failure or the failure of others. These are not realistic or helpful. This is not to say that these reactions do not serve a healthy purpose, but merely that they are not sufficient within themselves to solve the dilemma of failure.
At some point in life fear is very beneficial. In fact, it might save your life. All of us need to day-dream or fantasize, but to live for day-dreams is to be paralyzed in the present. There are other times when we need to flee because it might be the only way to save one’s life. Neither am I suggesting that the past is to be ignored. If a person has failed once, the likelihood is that he will again. If you have been betrayed once you know the fear that lingers that he or she will once again betray you. The past returns to haunt us. The future is ahead of us. We cannot immerse ourselves in the present that we forget that it is involved in molding the future.
What do we do when someone fails?
First, we often reject them. Even if we love them, we often subtly reject them. Judas probably cared about Jesus, but he perceived that Jesus was failing in what Judas thought should be his goals. Here is a lesson. Let a person be himself. Don’t set goals you want him or her to attain. Although Judas rejected Jesus and betrayed him, Jesus never rejected Judas. Until the very end he gave Judas opportunity to repent and to return. He was willing to allow Judas to be himselfwithin moral limits.
Let a person develop on his own at his own pace. If you set the agenda and the goals when the person fails, you will be even more tempted to reject him.
Second, another reaction is criticism. It is a deadly reaction. We are prone to dredge up all that is bad about a person when he fails. It is too easy. It is all so many words. If you haven’t by now recognize the fact, let me put it bluntly, criticism is deadly. It destroys. You can’t build anything with it. You can’t get a person out of the mire of failure by criticizing him. Away with criticism. It is not constructive or beneficial. Up with affirmation and acceptance. Let us focus on loving one another rather than trying to modify one another to fit what we want. They way to overcome failure in another is certainly not by criticizing him or her.
Look at your own personal response to criticism and you’ll see what I mean. We are not commanded to criticize one another anywhere in Scripture. We are told to love one another. Criticism alienates, grieves and agitates. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
Third, we often push people to do better. “Come on, you can do it. Just keep working. Don’t quit.” This is not all bad, but it can be devastating to have someone keep pushing and pushing, particularly if the goals and expectations are not one’s personally, or are unattainable.
What should we do?
First, we should confess that we care for the person who fails. This is what Jesus communicated to Peter when he failed (John13:21-35). He told him that he cared. He expressed confidence in him when he said, “Feed my sheep.” This is what Jesus was doing with Judas in the Upper Room. He was reaching out to the betrayer, saying, “I care. You don’t have to do this.”
Second, express continued confidence in the person who fails. This is a corollary to caring. Jesus didn’t say to Peter, “Well, I’ve had it with you, you dummy. You denied me! You cursed. I can’t trust you any longer. Sorry!”
Third, we should confront the failure realistically. Don’t deny it. Don’t act as though it didn’t happen. Let the person know you know, but also let the person know that you care and continue to have confidence in him or her. Don’t “rub it in” but just express love and confidence.
These correct responses take grace, patience and maturity in the faith to maintain.
We must learn from our failures and the failures of others. It is so much better to heed another’s failure, than to have to learn on our own what it is to fail. This is one reason God has given us a record of failures, including sins, that we might not repeat them, and if we do fail we can know what to do. This is what Paul was referring to when he emphasized to the Corinthians that the Old Testament stories were for our benefit that we might not “lust after evil things” (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11). We should not be unrealistic in our view of others or ourselves when failing. We are all human and will fail. We will fail ourselves and one another in a variety of ways, therefore we should cultivate the proper view of and relationship to failure.
I look forward to hearing from you on how we can work together to overcome failures. Since failure is part of the human experience we need kind nudges and gentle, thoughtful encouragement.—You can email Jerry Hopkins at email@example.com, or by letter at Dr. Jerry Hopkins, P. O. Box 1363, Marshall, TX 75671. Dr. Jerry Hopkins is a historian and retired university history professor