Failure is a funny word to me, because I truly believe that we rarely utterly fail at something. Sometimes, it is simply a matter of perception. Follow along with me for just a moment on that thought before we get into the meat of this topic.
Below is a series of photographs from a wedding, several years ago. At the time, I owned my own confectionary. This was not my first big event, but it was my first wedding. The bride wanted a confection bar full of candies, sweets, and treats. She didn’t want a traditional wedding cake at all. We decided upon some cupcake towers and a small cake at the top, which was adorned with their wedding topper and serve for the “cake cutting” part of the reception.
What you see here is a very well executed plan, right? Wrong. I had a MAJOR failure. I promised her Jolly Rancher Cotton Candy. I woke up that morning to make the fresh cotton candy, only to find that there was just too much humidity in air. The cotton candy, which I had made dozens of times before, was melting before I could even bag it. So, I bought some cotton candy that was pre-made and portioned it out into the bags.
The bride was happy, there were no gaping holes in the table set up, and there was not a single bag of cotton candy left over.
I failed. Yes, it was due to circumstances outside of my control… but I still failed to deliver what I promised. Even if, ultimately, I was really the only one who knew about the failure.
The next large event I catered was for a fundraiser. I met with the planning team and they presented an adorable center piece concept. They brought out super cute little tiered dessert stands. The plan was to have the stand filled with cupcakes. There would be a giant cupcake “topper”. The small cupcakes were part of the dessert for the evening. They would have table drawings for the centerpiece (inclusive of the giant cupcake topper, plus an additional 1 dozen mini cupcakes). In addition they wanted gift bags for the VIP sponsor tables. I was super excited to get started. I measured out the centerpiece they provided to determine the number of cupcakes that it would hold. Sent them a quote. The order was set.
When I arrived the morning of the event to set up, to my shock… the tiered center pieces had be replaced. They made the decision to go with something nicer, which was the right decision. However, they neglected to inform me of the change. These new centerpieces were MUCH larger. Almost twice the width on every tier. I placed the topper, the dozen mini cupcakes, and it was SPARSE. I flagged down the coordinator, explained the problem, and she made the decision we would forgo the dozen cupcakes as part of the table prize and instead use them to fill up the tiers.
The following Monday, I received an email from the main chairperson. She wanted a partial refund because I failed to produce the dozen cupcakes per table for the prize. She was never informed by the coordinator, and thought I had shorted their order. I explained what happened, who authorized the decision to use them, and apologize profusely. In her response, she was very kind and canceled the request for the refund. However, I never received another order from her or their organization again.
In this case there was a perception that I failed. I knew that I hadn’t, and that I met my obligations. However, based on what she could see… the chairperson perceived that I failed to come through.
This weekend I was reading an blog piece in which the author was brutally raw about her feelings, as she declared that Jesus had failed her family that year. I was really stumped by those words. Jesus… who is perfect, flawless, dependable, truth… failed you? I couldn’t understand it. It didn’t seem possible.
In all the years of unanswered prayers, I’ve never felt like Jesus let me down. Not once. I can’t think of a time where I looked up to the heavens and declared “Lord, you really let me down this time. I needed you to come through.” I was struggling with every single time her words “Jesus failed me” flew past my eyes. Yet, I not offended … angry … or hollering out “heretic”.
Perhaps, that is because in all of those times where things didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to… I blamed myself. I told myself that the reason my prayer wasn’t answered or the Lord didn’t show up was because I failed Him. I feel like I fail God daily. I never feel good enough. I question why in the world He would want to use me in ministry.
What I realized was that how we see things was very different. I was seeing failure in the way I described the first scenario. In some way, I failed to deliver on my end of the bargain… even if I did my best. Even if I made up for it in someway. Even if no one in the world knew or cared about it. I knew. I failed. My focus was there on that place where I failed, versus the ways that I succeeded.
The woman who wrote the blog piece was more akin to my second example. She was the chairperson who had expectations on how things were going to turn out. She brought in the right people, and through no fault of her own in that scenario, something wasn’t right. She turned to the person she trusted to come through, and she said “you failed me”.
You see, she ascertained that failure based on the limited amount of information she had. She didn’t know that the centerpieces were different sizes, or that it would make a difference in the end product presentation. She didn’t know that I was never informed of the change. She wasn’t brought into the decision making being done on the spot to accommodate the changes, nor filled in after the fact of what happened & why.
When the Lord is working out things for us, we are not always clued in to what is going on in the background. We can’t always see the people or situations that the Lord is coordinating into just the right places, at just the right times. In fact, sometimes we never will. We may never see those fingerprints where God was moving mountains and mustard seeds. So, when the end product (or process) isn’t what we expected… we may feel like God failed us. He didn’t come through.
On the other hand, we can become so focused on all of the areas where we ARE messing up… that we think we have failed God to the point He is ignoring us. We may think He is deliberately keeping blessing from us. We may even think that he is disciplining us.
In the first case, we are so focused on our perception of the situational outcome that we can’t see those who kept their word and did their part. We don’t appreciate the people who were pressed into hard decisions. We lose the ability to give people the benefit of the doubt. We make assumptions, assign unjust blame. Our vision becomes clouded to the work God is doing, the blessings that are coming, the people who did care, and the hundreds of little ways God came through with something BETTER. Jesus never fails us, we just perceive that He did because we didn’t get the outcome we desired.
Or, we become so focused on how wrong and sinful we are. We become so inwardly focused that we beat ourselves up, disqualify ourselves, and stamp FAILURE on our foreheads. We make vows to never try again, step away from commitments or ministry work, and wallow in how terrible we think we are. We put up our hands to the Lord, shouting STOP… I can’t be used. I’m a failure, not Jesus.
Christ died because we are failures at keeping God’s statutes and commands. Throughout the Old Testament, on a repetitive cycle… God would move, the people would celebrate, the people would forget, the people would fall & cry out, and God would rescue. By the time of the New Testament, when Jesus enters the arena… God’s ultimate plan of redemption for his people who just can’t keep it together on their own. In her piece, she repeated a few times that she waited for Jesus to rescue her… and He didn’t. I would contend… HE ALREADY DID, ON CALVARY.
And, in that moment we were given victory over sin and death. We are not failures, but perfected in Him. By His stripes we are healed. We need to keep our eyes on Him, not ourselves. Trusting His word, even when we don’t understand what is happening around us… or God seems quiet or far.
Then, I read the article a 2nd time. Something else jumped out at me, and we are going to talk about that next time.