Failing Without Being a Failure

by James Rudy Gray

Everyone experiences it and almost no one likes it: failure. I discovered something that has helped me significantly in trying to counsel other people. It is simple "You can fail without being a failure."

Most of the people we as people-helpers, ministers, and counselors will see are probably dealing with some type of failure. It can be encouraging for them to realize that God is more concerned with who we are than what we do or have done. In fact, our good works as Christians are nothing more than filthy rags if they do not proceed from a heart that is right toward God.

How do we help people caught in the grip of failure? What can we say that will help those who feel defeated and sometimes even hopeless? The confession of sins is important (1 John 1:9). A new way of looking at things is vital. Renewed faith and focus are critical (Matt. 6:33). Listening not as much to what went wrong but more on who went wrong is something we must cultivate. 

Counseling should be a place where encouragement is found and truth is never compromised. It should be an experience where flattery is not practiced but hope is expressed. It should be an activity where problems are not skimmed over or neglected but where they are faced.

In the process of helping people, counselors must find a way to speak God's truth in love. What if individuals have really failed badly? Suppose this is a moral failure and their sin has caused many people to feel pain. What can we as ministers and counselors do? If they recognize the wrong of their actions then we can help them accept the forgiveness that is theirs through Christ.

Still, for many people there is a nagging sense of failure that seems to linger in their thoughts, affecting their self-worth and their behavior. Sometimes I like to give people a ray of encouragement by mentioning some great failures in history. Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs. He is in the baseball Hall of Fame. He also set a record for strikeouts: 1,330. Winston Churchill failed the sixth grade. Abraham Lincoln lost his job, had a nervous breakdown following his girlfriend's death, went bankrupt, and lost three elections. But today we remember him as president of the United States.

There are many biographies, stories, etc., that can serve as enrichment for our clients. We must be careful not to give false hope. But we must also be sure we give real hope.

If we really listen to someone, we can then begin to understand the person and not simply what he or she has done.  Whatever it is we do grows out of who we are. If we change the way we think we can change we way we live, by God's grace. That is why His truth is so important and so liberating.

God is a great God of marvelous grace. If it were not for His grace, none of us would know the blessings we know today. That same grace should be fostered when we deal with those who have failed. They might have failed at something but they don't need to be failures.

                  James Rudy Gray, who pastors Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C., is certified as a professional counselor by the National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors.

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