Today I have the wonderful joy of preaching at 3 services at the beautiful Mosaiek Church in Johannesburg. This is a truly remarkable contemplative, missional, community of Christ followers. I am so deeply blessed by their desire to fully integrate the contemplative lifestyle with a missional focus. Encounter God, encounter the world.
I'll be speaking about failure and regret today. It is not often that one can have an 'adult' talk with a Church. I say this because so many Churches expect the kind of input that I give to my six year old, motivational, simple and entertaining. This community, however, has moved largely beyond that point. I see in them a desire for authentic living which inevitably means that not everything in life will be successful, victorious or filled with acclaim. The reality is that much of our lives revolve around how we cope with the inevitability of failure and regret.
Two quotes have been living within me as I have prepared a few words to share with them:
O Lord, who else or what else can I desire but you? You are my Lord, Lord of my heart, mind, and soul. You know me through and through. In and through you everything that is finds its origin and goal. You embrace all that exists and care for it with divine love and compassion. Why then, do I keep expecting happiness and satisfaction outside of you? Why do I keep relating to you as one of my many relationships, instead of my only relationship, in which all other ones are grounded? Why do I keep looking for popularity, respect from others, success, acclaim, and sensual pleasures? Why, Lord, is it so hard for me to make you the only one? Why do I keep hesitating to surrender myself totally to you?
Help me, O Lord, to let my old self die, to let die the thousand big and small ways in which I am still building up my false self and trying to cling to my false desires. Let me be reborn in you and see through you the world in the right way, so that all my actions, words, and thoughts can become a hymn of praise to you.
I need your loving grace to travel on this hard road that leads to the death of my old self and to a new life in and for you. I know and trust that this is the road to freedom.
Lord, dispel my mistrust and help me become a trusting friend. Amen
- Henri Nouwen (A Cry for Mercy).
Then there is this remarkable insight from JK Rowling's commencement speech to the graduating class of Harvard University.
At her Harvard commencement speech, "Harry Potter" author JK Rowling offered some powerful, heartening advice to dreamers and overachievers, including one hard-won lesson that she deems "worth more than any qualification I ever earned." In her speech, which I would highly recommend you google and read, she tells of how she failed catastrophically in her life –
I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless.
However, she went on to say that,
Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than I was and began diverting all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
She had ‘fallen’ into her life’s purpose through an embarrassing, costly and heartbreaking failure.
Here are two further insights that have been a great help to me on this path - and believe me, I am something of an 'expert' at failure (and regret)!
The greatest and most important problems of life are fundamentally unsolvable. They can never be solved, but only outgrown.
- Carl Jung
First there is the fall, and then we recover from the fall. Both are the mercy of God!
- Lady Julian of Norwich