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Is There Hope for Us When We Fail?

by William Trimyer

Forced termination or involuntary forced termination can leave one feeling they are a miserable failure. Is there hope for us when we fail? I am prone to answer in the affirmative, but I know that a broken spirit is hardly in a position to embrace forgiveness or to forgive oneself. And it may prove extremely difficult to forgive those who hurt us. The Prodigal Son wondered if there was any hope for him as he stood around the hog lot with an empty belly and a broken spirit.

The parable of the wayward son is intriguing. I wonder if this parable offers anything to those who have been orphaned from the church? This parable strongly suggests that it takes great courage to admit personal failure. But it also suggests that the father had the courage to bless his failing son. Sometimes it takes great courage to embrace forgiveness and even greater courage to forgive oneself. To believe that we are loved when our world seems to be caving in takes courage. Ministers may find it habitually easier to dispense grace than to embrace it.

The church is the one place you would expect to find grace but it may be the last place we experience it. In our society we have a strong tendency to bless only those who succeed. Success is a cause for celebration. If someone performs well in business or on the playing field, they are promoted. We reward successful people and expect even greater things from them. Failures are often shunned and made to feel worse than they already feel.

Forgiveness is a dirty business that requires something of us that feels strange and far removed when we are angry and hurting. We know intuitively that unless we forgive we may stay chained to someone or something for a long time. How in the world are we to forgive those who violate the covenant of trust and turn us into orphans by rejecting us? Forced termination, no matter what spin we might put on it, makes us feel exposed as a flop in our vocational calling. Heaven in America is a nice home and several cars. Hell in America is failure. To flunk out of school, to fail at marriage, to go bankrupt in business, to lose a game, or to lay an egg in the pulpit, these are the many faces of failure, and we are ill equipped to face them.

Society is against failure. We quickly learn strategies for denying and concealing our failures while extolling our successes. But what about being orphaned from our job when we didn't do anything to deserve such ill treatment? We are not failures. The system has failed us because it is a human institution made up of flawed people. Their anger over personal failures is sometimes dumped onto the pastor. The pastor becomes the repository of their hostile feelings. How do we forgive such people?

Forgiveness may be a foreign language we must learn in order to survive the pain of being orphaned. I know we are conditioned with the "thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." Failure can destroy or strengthen us. How do we extend grace to those who have diminished us with rejection and contributed to our feelings of failure? Perhaps it is during these horrible experiences of loss that we may find what we need. And as pious as it may sound, perhaps this is the time to embrace the heavenly Father and receive His kiss of grace. This Father knows how to bless us even when we feel we are a miserable failure. If the father in the parable was able to give grace to his failing son, what makes us think that our heavenly Father is any different?

It is ours always to be hopeful in our perceived failures, knowing that before God we are winners, that though today and tomorrow may appear bleak to us, embracing God's forgiveness, forgiving ourselves, and forgiving those who wrong us may be the major link in the journey of healing.