Thursday, May 24, 2007

stories of failure

She pulled me aside in Adelaide and thanked me for my input. Then she looked me in the eye and said “You should tell a story of when you failed.” When people like that open their mouths – older, female, straight to the point – I listen. I listen very, very carefully, for this is real feedback. When people get that honest, I feel like time has stopped and I am standing on holy ground.

So I did. The next time I spoke I told a story of failure. It was to a crowd of 300 and it was impossible in a group that size to tell if the story was helpful.

Then this, from Cheryl’s blog:
stu from solace and i keep talking about setting up a website that tells the story of the things we do that don’t work… of the hiccups along the way, the failures, mysterious stuff ups. they far outnumber the things that go smoothly.

So tell me, oh beloved listeners. Do publicly told stories of failure help? How and why and in what circumstances?

Posted by steve at 10:56 AM

11 Comments

  1. there are some stories like that that help me – not the ones that are really a kind of public laundering of stuff we’d like to get over but haven’t managed to so we share it so we don’t quite end up looking so bad – but the stories that are truly anti-hype, ordinary, unsuccessful little things…….those ones where God demonstrates he can create something out of nothing that doesn’t have to be anything – but it is……..

    Comment by julie — May 24, 2007 @ 11:12 am

  2. obviously they help me! if i spend too much time reading blogs i go away feeling inadequate and that i’m obviously doing something very wrong for everything to not be working. it stops me wanting to be honest about what i’m doing here.

    it’s more than self confidence, though. failures, disappointments, mysterious stuff ups speak of humanity. i don’t want to build a strong community. i want to build one that’s resilient in its fragility.

    we were wondering last night whether jesus invited 50 people to the last supper. the only ones who turned up were the same ones who always do…

    Comment by cheryl — May 24, 2007 @ 2:33 pm

  3. Of course! Those stories are beneficial as they remind me that I’m not the only one facing challenges. They also remind me not to (inadvertently) place people on pedestals, because after all, we are human and we all have our failures, AND as a result, I don’t beat myself up so much about my own. :)

    I strive to be the best I can be (and the best God wants me to be), and have high standards for myself. Many years ago, it was a given that I would pass all of my exams, as I found school ‘easy’. I became complacent. I failed. Really failed. So much so that I had teachers phoning me to ask ‘what went wrong?’. Hmm. Depressing. Embarassing (to my family and myslef). A huge myriad of emotions circled around me as I found the courage to pick myself uup and go back to school for another year. I have great admiration for people have ‘failed’, but have stuck it out in order to acheive what they have wanted to.

    Comment by Anita — May 24, 2007 @ 3:17 pm

  4. cheryl, I feel inadequate reading your blog. i wish i had half your aesthetic creativity. but that sparks and inspires me.

    as for last supper, there is no way that there could only have been 12 disciples. heaven help the church if Jesus had left his message with 12 men,

    steve

    Comment by steve@emergentkiwi.org.nz — May 24, 2007 @ 3:21 pm

  5. I think the biggest reason why “wise” honestly and transparency is helpful, esp in the emergent/progressive conversation is because we need to be reminded that this is REAL kingdom business here – talking about how great everything would be if everyone would just ___ (fill in the blank) is a pipe dream. But when you hear/read what people are doing INCLUDING the failures and pain and frustration, you put flesh and bone on it and realize it can indeed be done.

    Comment by Makeesha — May 24, 2007 @ 6:13 pm

  6. my husband is not a minister, but he’s often had the opportunity to deliver the message in worship services
    the one i remmeber the most is when he told the story of a “perfect opportunity” he had to impact one person’s spritual journey – he’s a great storyteller and he had everyone on the edge of their seat – but instead of concluding victoriously about how he had nailed the opportunity, he shared how he stuffed it up

    you could have heard a pin drop!
    some people were very uncomfortable, this was not what they were used to hearing “from the pulpit”
    yet others sat there with tears in their eyes as he was open and vulnerable enough to share his failure

    so many people hung around after that meeting to talk with him, it was amazing

    when we are weak, then and only then can He be strong

    Comment by Kel — May 24, 2007 @ 11:01 pm

  7. Steve

    For me honesty and reality is important. So both the great and the victorious and the mess ups that lessons were learned in are important. Without the hope of victory then we are lost. But with out the message of we all mess up and God loves us anyway discouragement sets in cause in reality we all mess up and God still loves us. I feel in modern churches (it may have been same throughout the ages, I wouldn’t know) that we focus on the great and victories, at the detriment of the mess ups. This is great when life is great, but when the season of drought or storms appears then we need the other stories to help us go the distance.

    Comment by david whyte — May 25, 2007 @ 11:00 am

  8. heya steve. stories of failure permeate our contexts, whether spoken or unspoken. the difference is that in telling our own stories of failure, we show people that God can be just as present right in the midst of failure. that’s precious ground.

    my senior once floored a room of seventeen year olds, by sharing his own deep sense of personal failure in regards to some mission time spent overseas. failure makes us all a little more human, which in turn, is a little more divine.

    Comment by tash — May 25, 2007 @ 1:23 pm

  9. heya steve. stories of failure permeate our contexts, whether spoken or unspoken. the difference is that in telling our own stories of failure, we show people that God can be just as present right in the midst of failure. that’s precious ground.

    my senior once floored a room of seventeen year olds, by sharing his own deep sense of personal failure in regards to some mission time spent overseas. failure makes us all a little more human, which in turn, is a little more divine.

    Comment by tash — May 25, 2007 @ 1:23 pm

  10. If we want to nurture communities of disciples, we need to tell stories of success and failure. But what really matters most is how we tell them. Stories of success can inspire, but they can also make others feel inadequate. We need to tell them; but we need to tell them with humility, crediting both God and those others who were involved alongside us. And, Steve, you do that really well.

    Stories of failure can foster defeatism or fatalism. Arguably the church in the West ‘fails’ in ways it shouldn’t because it doesn’t hear stories of success told rightly. But stories of failure can also be permission-giving, inspiring people to have a go themselves (as much as stories of success); and to have another go after failure. I think such stories have to point to the failure giving God room to move. I failed [full stop] is pretty depressing. I failed [God redeemed] is a whole different matter.

    And then, I think we need to remember that our story is the story of the one who experienced the success of defeating our enemies through embracing the failure of hanging out to die on a tree; who calls us to find life by taking up our own cross. Success and failure, on their own, are both equally hollow…Success and failure, held in paradoxical tension, are life-giving.

    Comment by Andrew Dowsett — May 25, 2007 @ 11:28 pm

  11. What makes our character stronger is our ability to acknowledge our failures, and flaws. If we build ourselves or others up to a place where we do not belong a status of perfection that only God deserves, then we create a situation where when we or those we love fail to meet our expectations an overwhelming sense of hurt and disappointment occur.
    We should never smother or over protect others, or falsely lead them into believing as a hypocrite would, we are something we are not, as if they then fail morally or ethically themselves, then psychologically they may not cope.
    We need to be honest no matter how painful, as secrets and betrayal of trust in a superficial relationship cause so much damage.
    We learn most from our mistakes and failures.
    I have chosen to be honest with my children and friends about all the good, bad and tragic parts of my life, and so many times I have been trusted with my friends most intimate secrets as until I had opened up to them they felt noone on earth could know their pain.
    We sometimes struggle to share things with our children or friends that we think may be to hard for them to understand, but even the most difficult things I have told my children and friends lately they have comprehended and when I thought they may think less of me they have not. The failure to be honest with those we love and to be completely open in our communication with them is what can lead to our strongest regrets.
    What has pleased me has been watching my children display a maturity, loyalty and faithfulness well beyond their years because I have been able to teach them things I wish I had known much earlier.
    I am a much better person now I know and acknowledge my weaknesses than I ever was before and far less judgemental. There are days when I slip up and make a huge mess, but they are less and less and that is what makes my walk of faith much more rewarding.

    Comment by Paula Weir — May 27, 2007 @ 10:46 pm

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