Failure and Forgiveness

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In discussing friendship and play in his sermon this week, Rich observed that developing skill in either requires failing a lot. So in learning how to play well or make friends well, we have to learn how to fail well. That idea has been in my mind this week. What would it mean to fail well?

Brenda Account PictureFor some of us perfectionists, putting “fail” and “well” in the same sentence doesn’t make sense. I know that I have a hard time coming to terms with failure. I’m much more tolerant of other people’s failures than I am of my own. Once when I was confiding to my husband that I thought I had failed in relating to a friend, he said, “Sometimes you find out where the boundaries are by crossing them. You’ll know next time.” Learn from your mistakes…what a concept!

I’d say that learning from your mistakes is the second principle of failing well.

The first principle, I think, is letting yourself fail in the first place. For some of us, failure feels so terminal that we do all we can to avoid it—including refusing to take risks, avoiding close relationships, or lying to ourselves and others.

As Rich said, friendships in Jesus’ day meant mutual obligation. I’d make this a general rule: there is no intimacy without obligation. The kind of obligation depends on the kind of relationship. But if you take the risk of really knowing someone and letting them know you, you take on some responsibility for the trust that they’ve placed in you. And wherever there are responsibilities or obligations, there’s the possibility of failure.

If we want to have friendships that are more than superficial and disposable, we need to deal with our failures. So here are a few more thoughts on how to fail well.

Create a “culture” in which it’s okay to fail. If we don’t start off by trying to impress a new friend or pretending we’ve got it all together, it will be easier to deal with the failures when they happen. The church really ought to be a “friend network” where it’s okay to fail, and where we can teach one another how to do it well.

Own up. We should be willing to admit when we’ve screwed up. This is hard, but it’s the only way to have authentic friendships. Once we’ve done it a time or two, maybe failure won’t feel so terminal.

Be willing to apologize. Once we’ve figured out which failures are ours, we should apologize for them. We don’t necessarily need to shoulder all the blame, but we also can’t hide behind the fact that our friend hasn’t apologized. The only actions we can control are our own. It’s amazing how an apology can create space for a conversation that seemed impossible.

Fix what can be fixed.  Sometimes we need to do more than apologize.  Maybe we need to repair or replace something we damaged.  Maybe we need to repair some damaged trust.  If something can be put right, we should do it.

Keep short accounts. We shouldn’t let failures build up to the point that both sides are approaching the nuclear option. It’s a lot easier to sort out a small issue than it is to defuse a much bigger one later on. It’s also a lot easier to arrange to deal with a small issue. The big issues have a tendency to explode when we’re not ready.

Learn how to give and receive forgiveness. As forgiven people, we Christians ought to have this down, but we don’t. Some of us have trouble forgiving, and some of us have trouble accepting forgiveness. Or maybe all of us have trouble with both. Forgiving someone means letting them off the hook for the hurt they’ve inflicted. We don’t pretend it never happened, or that it wasn’t that bad, but we deliberately choose to bear the pain ourselves and not to make the other person suffer for what they’ve done. This is what Jesus did for us, after all. To receive forgiveness, we have to admit that we did wrong and commit to doing better. This is what we do when we repent of our sins. Neither side is easy, but both are necessary for true reconciliation to take place. When this happens, a friendship can come out stronger than it was before.

So that’s where this week’s reflections have led me. What do you think? How can we fail well?

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To Love Is To Act

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In our second (or possibly third) week of writing about Bible passages you know all too well, we’ll be walking through 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13, otherwise known as that thing they say at weddings.

1 Cor 13: 4-8 –  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Ben TrubeThere’s nothing particularly wrong with thinking about love in this way, except Paul wasn’t really talking about marriage at all.

The Corinthians in general had a pride problem, they did things because it made them feel important, highly-valued in God’s eyes and in their community. Think status symbols. What Paul is essentially saying in verses 1-3 is that I can do as many good things as I like, but if I don’t do them out of love, then what good are they?

When Paul says love here, he’s not talking about the emotion, but rather the choice to love. Just think about the many meanings of the phrase “I love you”:

  • I am choosing to love you at this moment even though you are annoying me.
  • I am hanging up the phone now.
  • You’ve done something cute and ridiculous and it makes me smile.
  • I’m an idiot. Please love me back.
  • I don’t know what else to say.
  • I’m sorry.
  • Dinner was really tasty. I’m glad I didn’t have to make it.

I’m attracted to you and I’m in love with you are in there too, but chances are that isn’t what the phrase usually means.

Loving others is about not judging others. It’s about forgiveness. It’s about forbearance. And it’s about giving without giving an obligation. I do something nice for you, I help you out when you are in need not because I expect you to do the same for me, but because I love you and care about you.

That’s what Paul is trying to teach the Corinthians and it’s applicable not just in our married lives, but in all of our relationships with people.

In his sermon, Rich asked us to consider the question “Who am I withholding love from?” or “From whom are you withholding love?”.

I’m a pretty nice guy. I can come off as a bit of a grouch if you don’t know me very well, or you’re put off by beards. But I’m also kind of judgmental and a bit introverted.

My problem is I tend to make snap judgments of people, particularly if I don’t see something we have in common, and I tend to hold onto those judgments for far longer than I should. Sometimes I try to pass this off as “having a feeling about some people”, but really I’m set in my ways. It’s been proven to me on numerous occasions that not only am I wrong, but I’m missing out on a great friendship. Thankfully there are many people who are patient with me, but this is something I still need to work on as I meet new people.

Bottom line: Paul’s written some great poetry here, something that sounds good in romantic comedies and in front of our friends and love ones. But he’s trying to tell us something about more than just marriage, or love between too people. He’s trying to tell us how we should be with everybody, and how God is with us.

What about you?

  • From whom have you been withholding love?
  • What things do you mean when you say “I love you”?