These are two words we hope we never hear in our life. Failure means we have missed the mark and not fulfilled what we set out to do. We anxiously practice and prepare to avoid ever hearing those two words and the disappointment that comes along with it. However much we try to avoid it, we inevitably will face it. As children falling down when learning to walk, not answering a question correctly on a test, or not making a team, we all miss the mark at some point in life. Sometimes we don’t do anything wrong and still feel the sting of failure because of someone else or just the nature of the world we live in.
Recently I was at Plexus Corporation, one of my awesome supporters, in Neenah, WI to share my story and some of the things I have learned through biathlon. After the presentation I was able to tour the facilities and see the floor where they make everything from ultrasound machines to bombs. It was awesome to see the operations and all the people who form the backbone of the company. While walking around, one of the employees came up and introduced himself. He had just attended my presentation and was wondering if he could ask me a quick question. I said absolutely and he proceeded to tell me about his son. He said he was a fantastic baseball player to the point that after a year or two playing at the collegiate level he was drafted by a Minor League baseball team. He then told me how this past spring his son called home to say he’s done. His son was struggling to make ends meet and wasn’t enjoying the lifestyle anymore. He went on to say after hearing me present about how I worked through my struggles, how he doesn’t know if his son is giving up early. Fighting back tears the father look at me and said, “And it’s tough for me because I see that as a failure, you know? But after hearing your story I don’t know what to think, I mean he….he…”
I just gave him a half smile as I tried to think of something to say to comfort him, but I was at a loss for words. I’m not a father, nor did I know the details of the situation. I didn’t want to think of something clever to say, but wanted to offer truth in a way that would really meet him where he was at. I just looked at him and said, “I don’t know why your son decided to walk away from baseball, but he may have something better around the corner.” I didn’t know what to say to bring comfort to the dad in the moment, but also didn’t want to affirm the belief that his son had failed.
I didn’t really have much to say to the dad at the moment, but later in the day I was thinking more about our conversation. A lot of times we put emotions in front of truth and let our current feelings guide us. The problem with this is feelings change. One day we love someone and see forever with them, two months later we see never with them. There have been times for me in biathlon where another 4 years of competing like a biathlete seemed like torture. There have been other times when another 15 years of biathlon seems too short.
More than this, it is the feeling that accompanies failure that we most dread. It comes with a heaviness that feels like we are being crushed and takes every ounce of energy we possess. The longer we let this weight hang over us, the more it feels like it becomes a part of us. Soon, when the weight of failure becomes all too familiar, we start to think of ourselves as failures, not capable of success.
But what is failure? Is it really the feeling we are afraid of, or is it the vulnerability that can come about from failure? If we go back to the dictionary’s definition, “failure” is defined as a lack of success. What it doesn’t define is the timeline in which there is a lack of success. It doesn’t define it in terms of a season, years or decades.
One of the greatest failures the world will ever see was followed by one of the greatest victories. Long ago there was this man who lived in the Middle East who was a carpenter. He built furniture out of wood, until one day felt a calling to minister to the lost nation of Israel. For the next three years he traveled to serve others. He would feed the hungry, set captives free, and bring hope to those who had been suppressed for years. He was changing people's lives, but many people hated him. Soon, there were people who wanted him killed. For a while he escaped the killer's grasp, but finally one of his own disciples turned on him and he fell into the hands of his enemies.
Even more, this meek carpenter claimed to be the son of God. When put in front of the judge and questioned about this crazy claim that he, a mere man, could be God’s son he remained unphased. People threw rocks at him and shouted all the louder for him to be crucified. This claim is what ultimately had him killed. He was beaten and marred beyond recognition and died hanging on a cross while the guards mock him yelling “Save yourself! Come down from the cross if you are the Son of God!”
He did come down from the cross, but not until after he died. He had failed. He claimed he came to earth to save the people of Israel but he couldn’t even save himself. He had died a horrible death, and tricked many people along the way into thinking he was the son of God. Now he was just a carcass lying in a tomb.
That was until three days later when all of a sudden his body was missing. His tomb was empty and he was nowhere to be found. Later he appeared to his friends and told them, “Ain’t nothing to be scare of bros. I got this whole thing wrapped up.” Confusion lingered as they stood there staring into the eyes of their friend who had just been killed a few days earlier.
To this day, that man remains alive and his name is Jesus. He was the son of God yet left the comforts of heaven to come down and save us through the most epic fail of all times. He knew that for three days he was going to be viewed as a huge failure, yet he still marched up Mt.Calvary to his death. He wasn’t scared of what was ahead because he knew the victory that was to come. He didn’t let the fear of a temporary failure deter him from his ultimate victory, restoring a relationship with the people of this world.
Now who in their right mind would leave the comforts of heaven to come down here to earth to save a bunch of failures? No one would, and Jesus wouldn’t either. I don’t believe that if Jesus saw us as a bunch of failures that he would have taken those beatings and hung on that cross. He sees value in his children and is willing to look like a failure so they can come to know their true identity.
Now I know there are going to be people who wouldn’t say Jesus is one of the greatest success stories. In fact, I’m sure there are people who would say he’s still just a failure, but which one is true? The apostle Paul alluded to this as he wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:19 “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Jesus had some pretty lofty claims, and if they weren't true, his life would have been a total bust. However, I believe he knew something everyone else didn't, and didn't let others doubt stop him from doing what he came to earth to do. He didn’t come for just one life, he came for new life. For all.
As a result of Jesus' failure, we no longer have to fear failure. What the world may see as a failure today may actually be one step towards becoming who we were created to be. And that, that is victory.
We were graced with a beautiful sunrise the other morning before training in Canmore, AB
Enjoying the summit of Ha Ling Peak in Canmore during an afternoon jaunt
Racing in Jericho, VT during the USBA October Trials