By Andrew Armond
When I was a college professor, I would have students visit my office for meetings. Invariably, as I would begin to look over the student’s paper and seek to answer their questions about it, they would gaze over the floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with books, probably close to 1,000 volumes at one time in my career, and say, with wonder and disbelief, “have you actually READ all of these?"
And my answer, invariably, was the same as well: “No, I haven’t! But I know why I have each one, and if I have a question about something, I know where to find the answer!”
One of the most important realizations you begin to have when you age is the unfinished character of life. I’ll never read all those books. I’ll never finish all the projects I’d like to finish. I’ll never accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish. And so, in many respects, we could call those unfinished things “failures.”
But failures in life are inevitable. Embracing failure, imperfection, and incompleteness can be a spiritual practice that brings us closer to the heart of God in Jesus Christ.
After all, Jesus, too, was a failure. This is the central message of Lent and Holy Week! Jesus, in fact, could only complete the work God had for him to accomplish if he “failed,” gloriously, in the eyes of the world. Condemned to die in the way of a common and unheralded criminal, he cries from the cross “It is finished,” which can also be translated “It is accomplished” or “It is completed.”
Embracing failure, imperfection, and incompleteness can be a spiritual practice that brings us closer to the heart of God in Jesus Christ.
This statement from our Lord and Savior, the One whom we trust in for our salvation, our life, our all, is ridiculously ironic on its face. Jesus was a young man who had only been in active ministry for three years.
There were more people he hadn’t healed, hadn’t helped, hadn’t reached. How could everything that he had intended to do be “completed” by dying a shameful death?
St. Paul answers this question in 1 Corinthians, in which he admits that Christ crucified is both a “stumbling block” and a “folly” in the eyes of the world, but in the eyes of those called by God, it is “the power” and “wisdom” of God.
We have to allow God to be God and allow ourselves to be human, accepting our frailty and limitations. And then, paradoxically, we will be truly free!
Every year, the Archbishop of Canterbury chooses a book to be recommended for all Anglicans during the Lenten season. In 2012, the chosen book was Love Unknown by Ruth Burrows, a Carmelite nun. One of the beautiful things about this book is that it highlights, over and over again, the simple fact that for us to grow spiritually, we have to be glorious failures.
We have to allow God to strip away our pretense, our pride, even the things we do that we think are pleasing to God. We have to allow God to be God and allow ourselves to be human, accepting our frailty and limitations. And then, paradoxically, we will be truly free!
There is so much good in this book that I wanted to quote nearly every page in this short article. But I will leave you with these words, which show us the victory God achieves in our life in and through every failure:
“Our faith must be a rock-like certainty that God, in Christ, has given us everything, guaranteed an inheritance that cannot be spoiled and can never pass away. An ocean of grace is always at our disposal. Our lives should be thanksgiving and this will mean a realization that we need not rely so much on ourselves but must look towards him for guidance and strength. We shall cease to worry as to the outcome of our effort, be it success or failure. Our works will be the works of Christ living in us and acting through us. Firm belief in what God is and has done for us, the riches that are there for us, enables us to stand erect and hold our heads high, whatever storms swirl around our defenceless head" (pages 116-117).
The Rev. Dr Andrew Armond is the Associate Rector of St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Waco, Texas. Carmelite Spirit is grateful for Rev. Armond's kind permission to publish his article here.