“Have you failed yet?” My friend and coach asks my workout partner and me this during an early morning session. We both shake our heads. “Then you’re not done.” We take turns adding more weight to our bar until we can’t lift it. After we’re finished, we high-five each other and cheer, “We failed!”
Before you think I’m some super athlete, let me give a few disclaimers. I’m awkward and naturally uncoordinated. I run like a duck. I managed to injure myself on a stationary bike. I fell down in the middle of class today (yes, really). But I do love getting stronger — mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually.
One way I’m doing so is by reshaping how I see failure. At the gym, we’re told to “go to failure” on certain exercises. In other words, figure out the maximum you can do, which you only find out by failing. When that’s the task, failure is success.
The world tells us the opposite: “Go for success. Make sure you look good. Don’t try anything too hard. Play it safe. Keep your image intact.”
But the Apostle Paul said, “I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10 NLT). When I read this verse in the past I sometimes thought, “Whew, Paul, you’re a little crazy.” But lately, I’m starting to understand.
We see moments of failure as reasons for shame. But what if we shift our perspective? When you “go to failure,” it means you have given your best. You’ve tried as hard as you could. You refused to give up. You used every bit of strength you had. You didn’t fail; you found your growth point. Once you’ve gone to “failure,” it’s time for recovery, to ask, “What did I do well and what do I want to do differently next time?”
I recently walked through a challenging situation. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to fix it. I did and said everything I could, but the outcome remained the same. I kept telling myself, “You failed.” But now I’ve started to say instead, “You went to failure, which means you did your best, and that’s all anyone can do.”
What are you working through right now? Maybe there’s a broken relationship you can’t mend, a goal you can’t reach, a dream that hasn’t yet come true. You might have a vision for your future and keep falling short of it, something you’d love to create that isn’t turning out how you see it in your mind, or you’re wrestling through hard questions with your faith. Perhaps you’ve felt discouraged or disheartened, compared yourself to others who seem stronger, or keep asking the question I did, “Why am I so weak?”
The answer: You are not weak. You are choosing to “go to failure.” You’re pushing your limits, You’re growing. You’re getting stronger. The next relationship you have, you’ll be wiser. The next project you work on, you’ll know more. The next risk you take, you’ll have greater courage.
The really good news? You won’t be doing it alone. God will be with you in every moment. When my partner finally failed at lifting her weight I said, “It’s okay, I’ve got you.” Then together we lifted her bar.
God says the same to you. He’s got you. No matter how weak you feel today, you’re still making progress. You may have maxed out for now and that’s okay. Well done for giving it your all. Now it’s time to rest, recover, and try again when you’re ready.
Remind your strong-but-weary heart of this today: Sometimes failure is success.
Are you in a season where you need more strength and encouragement? You’ll find it in Holley’s devotional book, What Your Mind Needs for Anxious Moments! Get a free except here.