One failure in life seems to collect another failure, but love can cut through any collection of failures. We need to listen for the shame that has been collected then meet it with heartwarming arms.
If you can talk about failure, you can talk about anything.
As he opened up and talked about his failures, I wondered what I was supposed to do.
Questions rumbled through my mind.
- Was he genuine?
- Was he seeking sympathy?
- What wasn’t he telling me?
- Was this a pity party?
No, he owned the failures. He was taking responsibility for the mess he had made of life, and he just wanted me to know.
She told me the story of a time where she had made a terrible decision. Now, this failure had other failures clinging to it. The weight of it was taking her down. She wanted me to know.
Cleaning the life drains
One of my less than desirable jobs as a gardener is to clean drains.
It’s fascinating how one little twig will get caught on the side of a drain. Then, later on, another small branch will come downstream and collide with it. They knit together.
Then some leaves float down and mesh in amongst the twigs.
Fine silt washes into the knitting and builds a base. Then weed seeds settle on the soil, spread their roots, and block the drain.
It stays blocked until something quite abrupt and unsettling comes and disturbs the clog. Usually, it’s my spade driving deep and long into the mess and cleaning it out.
Some people collect stamps, some china dolls, most of us collect our failures.
Little failures snag into our life. They bind and weave themselves into the psyche. Then another failure happens, and it twists itself in.
Failures accumulate, and you take on the personality of a walled-up dam.
You see yourself as a failure. Any successes and any joys get shredded down to being yet another failure.
Shame and guilt
When understanding failure, it’s crucial to know the difference between shame and guilt.
Guilt is focused on a behavior that has been done. ‘I did something wrong.’ I am guilty of stealing a cookie from the cookie jar. I did it. I own the action I took. I own the thinking that led me down that pathway to opening the pantry door, prying open the tin and devouring the cookie.
Shame is focused on the self. ‘I am bad.’ I am a cookie thief, a notorious biscuit bandit. I steal, rob, and destroy cookies. I have the full personality of a cookie criminal.
Guilt: I made a mistake.
Shame: I am a mistake.
The early messaging
How many of us have a deep belief that we are a mistake?
When I was researching for the post Why Men Don’t Talk I received this message on Facebook as a reason why men don’t talk
‘Being told as a child that “You’re a failure,” “You’re useless” “You’re a parasite” “You know nothing.”
Tears welled up in me when I thought of a small child being hammered with shame. It’s abuse, emotional abuse.
Like little twigs gathered together, these would have collected further shame messages that floated by. They would have dug deep into this mans thinking.
Shame collects shame like a rotting carcass collects flys. It’s repulsive, smelly, and ultimately destructive.
When we talk
It’s love that shatters shame.
We don’t want to talk about our failures as failures can be shame buttons.
Talk about them, and others have the opportunity to push the button and spread the word that you’re a failure.
Jesus and Peter
Jesus and Peter were the closest of friends. Where Jesus went, Peter went.
You couldn’t separate them, and so in the time when Jesus needed Peters friendship the most, you would expect Peter to be bound right next to him.
Peter denied even knowing Jesus. Slap in the face to Jesus. The message to Jesus was ‘You’re truly alone.’
A natural consequence you would think to this behavior would be Jesus rejecting Peter.
‘I can’t trust you anymore;
I thought I knew you?;
Why did you reject me?
I would love to know what that first conversation between Jesus and Peter was like after this event. What were the verbal and non-verbal messages being sent and received?
I wonder what happened? We don’t know.
We know that on the third meeting, Peter leaped out of a boat, swam to the shore and warmed himself around a fire Jesus had built. Words flowed, and love exchanged. Peter was restored, and the vision was resurrected.
Here is what I think happened in the first meeting.
I think forgiveness flowed and shame got shattered by love. Like my sharp spade cutting through the dross of a drain.
Love remembers no wrongs
Paul knew the dark shadow of shame well, and I believe that it was his ‘thorn in the flesh.’
He also knew about love.
Love keeps no record of wrongs 1 Corinthians 13:5
When we love well, we don’t keep a record of what this person did or did not do.
We learn to let it go. No shaming of others for past offenses. We don’t enslave them to the burden of another time.
We don’t shame ourselves either. Self-love is as valuable as loving others. We forgive ourselves and learn from our failures.
You’re not a wretch so don’t sing yourself into a shame-based spirituality.
Read more – Self Compassion for a ‘Wretch like me.’
Perhaps some loving self-talk might shift the silt of shame.
I am not the man I once was.
I am not the woman I once was
I am not the sum of my failures
I am not the sum of my successes
I am one who is loved, held and cherished for all that I am
One failure in life seems to collect another failure, but love can cut through any collection of failures. We need to listen for the shame that has been collected then meet it with open, loving, and forgiving arms.
Quotes to consider
- Shame causes us to see our identity as flawed rather than seeing ourselves as having flaws. Dan Allender
- Religion without grace can tie shame around our souls like a choke chain and never offers relief. Brennan Manning
- Shame loves secrecy. The most dangerous thing to do after a shaming experience is hide or bury our story. When we bury our story, the shame metastasizes. Brené Brown
- To be known means that you allow your shame and guilt to be exposed—in order for them to be healed. Curt Thompson
- Your failures are just another occasion and opportunity to learn and practice love, even toward yourself. You deserve mercy too. Richard Rohr
- When the failure has prompted some serious personal learning, then it’s no longer truly a failure. D. Riddell
- Unless a bishop, teacher, or minister has on some level walked through suffering, failure, or humiliation, his or her words will tend to be fine but superficial, OK but harmless, heard by the ears but unable to touch the soul. Richard Rohr
- Life, if we are honest about it, is made up of many failings and fallings, amidst all of our hopeful growing and achieving. Richard Rohr
- Christianity is not about being right. It’s about being loved. Curt Thompson
Questions to consider
- What stops us from talking about our failures?
- What do you think Jesus said to Peter in that first encounter?
- How has failure collected other failures in your life?
- What is the cumulative effect of collecting failures?
Photo by Kyle Head on Unsplash