Failure is part of every real human life. It is likely that if we live a full life we will fail regularly. It is the modern author J K Rowling who is attributed as writing: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might well have not lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” To be a top sportsperson one has to fail numerous times before attaining one’s outstanding achievement. The scientist experiments and fails, often in many and varied ways, before a breakthrough is found which transforms our understanding.
It is easy to teach young people to celebrate their success. However, a good parent or teacher also knows that a mature adult will also need to learn how to handle and live through failure in order to emerge as a better person. I do wonder sometimes whether some of the mental health issues many of us face are exacerbated by a culture which struggles to provide space for honest narratives of failure. If we define ourselves and one another by how we succeed, then failure becomes primarily an experience of exclusion, denial, or the diminution of our self-worth.
The Gospel of St Mark is a book about failure. Apart from a few individual exceptions, everyone else in the book gets it completely wrong: religious leaders; Jesus’ disciples; even the women who follow him. Jesus’ life also appears to end in complete and utter failure as he exclaims “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and dies on a cross. The more closely one reads the Book, the more one realises how remarkable it is that it came to be written at all! The Good News is that despite all the failures it did somehow come to be written and in that alone we can find hope.
St Mark knew that love and acceptance cannot be found in just celebrating our success. Eventually that becomes exhaustingly inhuman and damaging, for success and failure inevitably go hand in hand. Rather, as a Christian, I believe our humanity is found in a God who creates and loves us beforewe succeed or fail, and success or failure cannot change that unconditional love.