Failure Is An Option


There's this phrase that I've heard more than a few times over the past thirty years that has the power to both inspire and terrify at the same time:  

Failure is not an option. 

I decided to look up the origin of that phrase and discovered that it is widely attributed to NASA flight director Gene Kranz during the near-disastrous Apollo 13 mission. 

But the true story is that the phrase was coined by the creative team behind the Tom Hanks film Apollo 13 in 1993.   There's your fun fact for the day.  You're welcome. 

The inspiring aspect of that phrase is that it creates a kind of "do or die" scenario that can be helpful when facing an insurmountable challenge with profound consequences. 

But it's also terrifying because of one simple fact: 

Failure is an option. 

It may not be the option we choose, but it is certainly a possible outcome if we move forward, decide, or take a risk.  And frequently, we realize just how possible failure can be. 

Coming to grips with failure is a challenging thing for all of us.  

The feeling that comes over you when you realize that you are out of options and that admitting defeat is all that is left is a sinking feeling that I imagine is not unlike being in free fall. 

I've had more than a few defeats in my life---enough to know that I don't take to failure all that well.  But I've also learned more through failing than I ever did by succeeding.  

Still, I don't like to fail.  None of us do.  And that's a good thing.  The moment we get used to failure, resign ourselves to it, or let it become the narrative that shapes our lives is tragic at best. 

Some of us may have experienced so much failure lately that it feels like we're somehow doomed to it.  Perhaps somewhere along the line, we internalized that phrase about failure not being an option, and then our failure sends us spinning.  

Others of us find it impossible to get over that sinking feeling that we felt and can't shake the notion that we are failures because of it. 

I read this quote by author and speaker Bob Goff the other day, and it resonated with me profoundly: 

Failure's just a part of being human.  The problem is usually the story we tell ourselves that keeps us from moving past it.  

That quote hit me like a ton of bricks.  It essentially asks, "How often do we tell ourselves stories about our failures, so much so that they become a defining narrative instead of a lesson learned?" 

The answer is:  More often than we would like to admit. 

Most of us only uncover the dirty secret underneath those stories with a great deal of hard work.  It takes brutal honesty, self-awareness, and reflection, and most of us don't want to "go there" because of what we might find. 

And generally, the fear of failing again keeps us from moving past our failures into fearless hope.

Believe it or not, many people would prefer to keep telling themselves how they are prone to failure rather than let go of that narrative and live a new life with new risks of heartbreak, disappointment, and the like.    

But if we are willing to learn from our failures, transcend them, and include the lessons, we can find a new way forward without those old stories. 

God doesn't hold our past against us.  Because of this, we don't have to live in dread over what comes next.  We can find the lessons in our failures, know that God doesn't love us less, and move forward in the hope that, come what may, we are held in God's loving hands.

May this be so for all of us.  And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all, now and forever. Amen.  



 



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