For someone who has a dream, who has a desire burning within their heart, failure can be a difficult experience to encounter. I can relate to people who have found their aspirations and dreams frustrated. Over the past 5 years numerous failures have occurred in my life, and this Holy Week I found myself attempting to make sense of it all. I hope that sharing those failures will help someone else who has gone through numerous redirects in their life.
I wanted to be a missionary, but was rejected twice by the same ministry in college. I worked at a large financial firm for two years. After initial success as an intern I found the full-time role overwhelming. I eventually resigned. Then I launched my own business as a motivational speaker. Initial success came, 40 talks to several thousand people in one year. But my fee was low, and I didn’t bring in enough to support myself financially. I picked up a retail job, and found myself receiving orders from high school students who earlier that year had heard me speak. That was a bit embarrassing.
I moved cities to get a new start. Enrolled in an MBA program. Things began to look up again. Studies were going well. I had a good summer internship lined up. I was flying now to give talks instead of driving. Then COVID hit. Lost the summer job. Speaking engagements dried up. I recall last Holy Week being frustrated with God. “After everything I’ve gone through, now this happens! Can’t you give me a break?” I had a hard time making sense of the past few years. I fortunately found another summer job. I was working as a cinematographer/producer for a Catholic ministry in Colorado. Cinematography had been a hobby since high school so I was looking forward to it. Again things went well initially, but the size and scale of the project which involved filming, editing, and producing 28 videos in 10 weeks required a work schedule that started as early as 6 am and ended as late as 1 am. I ended the summer burnt out, and disappointed with the final product.
Year two of the MBA began last fall. Studies went well. I accepted a job offer upon graduation. I had made the decision to work full-time and deliver talks part-time. Things are heading in a positive direction. But I kept thinking about all the setbacks, redirections, and failures since college. I found myself feeling resentment and anger over these past experiences. “How could someone work so hard, and fail so often?” It hadn’t helped that in one job interview, the interviewer said “Stephen you have a lot of different experiences, which is interesting. But that also makes me nervous, because I’m not sure you know what you want to do.”
I’ve been asking God for sometime why hard work can be met with failure. Why good projects can fall apart. This Holy Week, as I practiced the stations of the cross, it hit me. The meditation for the second station stated a true change of heart “is only possible if our hearts, hardened by sin, are crushed under the yoke of the cross. Yes, the cross of trials is the divine instrument that shapes and forms our hearts, rendering them apt to love effectively.”
I have been upset with my past failures because I felt like they were pointless and I felt like I was alone. Christ’s death and resurrection is a response to both of those concerns.
The Israelites had an understanding that sacrifice was a necessary part of their lives in order to bring about good. They demonstrated this in their Passover Sacrifice, where a sacrifice was made to atone for their sins. Jesus took the sacrifice to a whole new level, to bring about a good never possible before: eternal life to anyone who would follow Him. Jesus’ suffering had meaning, it brought about good despite the apparent failure. In the same way Christ uses setbacks and failures as a cross to work out some good in our lives. Our failures and crosses have meaning, and will bring about some good.
Secondly, we are not alone with our cross. Jesus said as much “Take my yoke upon you… for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” -Matthew 11:29-30. As an example, I recall growing up disliking school. School was my cross. My mother pushed me to finish my homework, to study, and to do my best despite my constant complaints. I didn’t understand why I had to endure to cross of homework, but I put up with it because my mother was accompanying me through my studies. Years later, I’m grateful she did! In the same way Jesus accompanies us in our trials. We may not understand our current cross in the moment. But we can recall Christ’s sufferings and know He is with us. And years later looking back we’ll be grateful we did.
As I look back on the previous failures I’m grateful they happened. God used each failure as an opportunity for growth. Each of these failures taught me something about myself and showed me areas where I needed to grow. As painful as the failures were, it led to growth that never would have happened without the pain of failure. The growth from those failures prepared me to face new challenges and overcome them. Almost every triumph in my life is somehow related to what I learned from a previous failure.
To anyone out there who has encountered failure I would encourage you to reflect on Christ on the cross. Jesus gave our suffering meaning, and He is with us in our own suffering and failures. And if we walk with Christ, that failure can be turned into a triumph.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Blessed Charles de Foucauld. He was a frenchman born in 1858. After spending the first 28 years of his life away from Christ he returned to his childhood faith. He became a religious priest and spent the final years of his life living among and evangelizing Muslim communities in North Africa. He failed to make any conversions, and was killed in 1916. Based on his writings, I don’t think Foucauld was discouraged by the failures at the end of his life. And we shouldn’t allow our failures to discourage us.
“I must draw strength from my weakness, using that very weakness itself for God, thanking Him for this pain, offering it to Him. I beseech Him with all my heart to increase my pain if I can bear anymore…We must never seek to leave the foot of the cross sooner than God would have us do… we do not want to be freed from it any quicker than it is his will we should be.”