Conceding Defeat Without Losing The Battle
As we all wait for our national election to finally and blessedly come to a close, the one thing that will probably not happen is the kind of concession speech that we're used to from political candidates who ultimately have to face the fact that they lost.
In 2008, Sen. John McCain conceded the presidential election to Barack Obama in a speech that included these words:
“I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating [Obama], but offering our next president our goodwill and earnest effort to find ways to come together…Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans.”
I have been thinking this week about how hard it must have been to deliver that kind of speech. Hard things get said during an election, and some of them are personal. Accusations are leveled. Antipathy can run high.
And yet, in the end, McCain, like so many presidential candidates both before and after him, acted graciously in defeat---putting the needs of the many ahead of his own.
I would like to think I would have found the grace to deliver a speech like that. God knows we need something similar right now to ease the tensions in our troubled country.
Having said that, I do have a confession to make: I hate to lose. And not only do I hate to lose, but I also have this tendency to internalize failures in ways that aren't all that helpful to my overall well-being.
COVID-world has provided me with more than a few opportunities to fail. In so many ways, my job is completely different than it was, and the learning curve on figuring out how to be a pastor in this new world has been high.
There are days when I feel as though I have done nothing right, and all too quickly I begin to beat myself up over all the things I'm doing wrong without seeing the many things I'm doing well.
All the while, I'm trying desperately to slap a smile on my face and say the right things to make it look like I'm absolutely killing it.
This leads me to believe that I might not be all that good at making a quality concession speech. Because, like a lot of us, I wrongly identify with the ways I fall short, and foster a deep and abiding fear that I might actually be a failure.
It's a good thing that God sees us differently than we see ourselves. It's also a good thing that God doesn't waste anything, including our failures. Through failure we learn, we grow, we expand our capacity to become the people we are created to be.
Fr. Thomas Keating once wrote:
We must be patient with our failures. There is always another opportunity unless we go ashore and stay there.
There is so much truth in that statement. The real tragedy of failing is when we give up the journey forward into our future and toward our best and truest selves, and "go ashore and stay there."
If you have been feeling as though failure has been your only option lately, don't. It's not. There's an option after that, and after that... and after that.
And even if you gave up and went ashore, that in itself isn't the end of it, either. Pick up your oar and get back into the boat and start rowing. You have places to go, and things to accomplish. You also have more failures ahead of you, which shouldn't frighten you at all.
Because you are becoming more you every time you fall and rise again.
May this be true for you today and every day forward. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.