The Comfort of Failure

The third station -- Jesus falls the first time -- is exhibited in Ted DeGrazia's Way of the Cross series at the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun in Tucson, Ariz. The artist painted the series in 1964 for the Newman Center at the University of Arizona. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

There’s a common expression in Spanish that says, “el que no arriesga no gana” roughly translated to “the one who risks nothing, gains nothing.” Though it probably originated in the gambling industry, the phrase points to a greater truth in the human experience: being afraid to lose can seriously limit our achievements in life.

Fear of failure is a common phobia. It’s the one that leads us to procrastination, to saying “no” when in our hearts we hear a “yes,” to putting off our dreams because they seem too grand. We give in to this fear when we feel that there’s too much at risk.

And what is at risk? Often it is our self-image. If I do this and I fail, then what will others think of me? I’ve got a reputation to maintain. Other times, it is our dreams, those hopes for the future we hold deep in our hearts. Pursuing our dreams only to see them fade before our eyes is a pain that can seem too great to bear. It’s safer, then, to keep those dreams within. It becomes easy to go about our lives in the safety of our comfort zone, holding on to the things we know for sure. This fear gets in the way of us living our life to the fullest.

Meditating upon the life of Jesus, we see just how differently he lived, risking it all, to the point of death. He cared not about his self-image; he was misunderstood, even by those closest to him. As impossible as they may have seemed, he voiced and pursued his dreams: “that they may all be one,” (Jn 17:21). Rather than holding on to the things he knew for sure, Jesus gave himself entirely, both in the Eucharist at the Last Supper and on the Cross in Calvary.

In the eyes of many, Jesus’ death on the Cross was the ultimate failure of this reckless and naïve “savior.” But we who live on this side of the Resurrection know that death did not triumph, that Jesus’ trust and surrender to the Father’s will gained for us the abundance of life eternal.

The triumph of the cross emboldens us to speak the truth at the risk of sounding unpopular, to stand up for the oppressed and marginalized at the risk of being labeled and misunderstood. It encourages us to dream and work towards unity and reconciliation in a fractured and divided church, country, world.

And if we fail, can we find comfort in our failures? I think we can when we base our lives on the example of Jesus. When we let go of our desire to maintain a certain image, we gain an invitation to see ourselves with God’s eyes of unconditional love. When our dreams suffer defeat, we gain an invitation to trust more deeply in God’s plan. When we lose the sense of control over our own lives, we gain the freedom of knowing that God is in charge, and God always triumphs. When we follow Christ and lose our fear of failure, we gain life, and life abundant.

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