Failures and the Kingdom

We thank you as well for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone (from A General Thanksgiving, BCP, page 836).

There are two framed New Yorker cartoons in my office, given to me by my wife to make sure I will laugh at myself. One has a man, dressed in a business suit and carrying a briefcase, walking down a New York sidewalk. The caption reads: “57 years and I haven’t stepped on a crack yet.” The other has two men sitting at a bar. One of them says to the other: “What do you mean, ‘your guess is as good as mine?’ My guess is a hell of a lot better than your guess.” Daily I am reminded that I can be a little obsessive-compulsive and arrogant.

It feels like I make more mistakes now than I used to. Maybe I’m just noticing it more now but it seems like my brain stumbles in little places. I used to pride myself on making very few mistakes but they slip in here and there now.  I’m not as quick or as accurate as before.

How is it, then, that I actually feel more comfortable in life now than when I made less mistakes? It seems logical that a little panic might set in. If my performance level is not what I think it should be, then shouldn’t I  be worried about life slipping away from me? Making mistakes brings on problems, right? People think less of us when we don’t do things exactly as they should be done – isn’t that true? I’ve always hated mistakes and associated them with failure.

Yet, making mistakes and then watching what happens afterwards is pretty fascinating. People seem pretty understanding, much more so than I am. People let me get closer to them after they’ve seen me be a little less machine-like. Compassion issues forth.

Making mistakes, and then watching what happens, helps me see who I really am. It helps me acknowledge that I’ve really been trying to hide something all these years. It feels a little freer just to admit it and deal with it. I make mistakes. There it is, right out there. And now I see, of course, that I always have. Who doesn’t? Living with  the goal of not making mistakes leads to a grim sort of denial.

The Old Testament shows some development of spiritual wisdom. Early on the law is given. The people are assured that, if they do things right, they will be rewarded. So they commit themselves to what is right. When they fail, they suffer. When they succeed, they thrive. For a while. Then they start to see that, sometimes, even when they do what is right they aren’t always rewarded. Hard things happen even when they are doing everything right. Then the Old Testament moves from the books of the law and the prophets to the wisdom writings (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes). There we see that there is something more to faithfulness than avoiding mistakes. Faithfulness involves accepting who we truly are, and coming to see who God is in response.

Our mistakes reveal the faithfulness of God even more than our successes do. When we fail, we come to see that God is there in a stronger way than we have ever imagined. We fail and life goes on. We let ourselves and others down, and God picks up the pieces. Suddenly we see that our focus in life has really been ourselves – avoiding mistakes and thinking that makes the world go round – rather than God who sustains us even when we disappoint.

Failures, as the prayer suggests, reveal our dependence on God alone. Life does not depend on us doing things perfectly. Life depends on the graciousness of our God who sends his son to show us love and salvation.

I still don’t like my mistakes but it is freeing to admit they are there. Honest admission brings about a new awareness of God’s love. So, shall we sin all the more so that we may see God better? No, that’s not the way it works. Grace inspires us to see ourselves more accurately but to strive more diligently, with perhaps a bit more humility.

Yours faithfully,

Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.

 

 

Special Events Around the Corner

Christmas Pageant – December 17, 9:30 am

4th Sunday of Advent – December 24 – Eucharist at 7:30 am and 10:30 am

Christmas Eve – December 24 – Eucharist at 5:00 pm and 11:00 pm with Music at 10:30 pm

Lessons and Carols – December 31 at 10:30 am

Feast of Lights with Fran McKendree – January 7, 5:30 pm

Ash Wednesday – February 14