During one of our weekly pizza-movie nights, our family watched Apollo 13. It was the first time for the kids, and they loved it all, but especially the famous line “failure is not an option.” We talked a bit as a family about how that mindset made it possible for the space flight team to overcome incredible odds and obstacles to bring the three astronauts home. We also discussed that while failure was not an option, at the same time, the whole of the space program wasn’t possible without countless failures, all of which contributed in various ways to its amazing success.
And yet, somehow, failure seems like a dirty word. Perhaps it is the fear of being exposed or simply our very human fear of getting it wrong. Most people I know, myself included, are really uncomfortable when we fall short, make a mistake or fail at something. For many of us, the tendency is to take it personally, as if somehow failure means that we ourselves are deeply flawed, failures in some profound and significant way. And the temptation then is to try and avoid failure: by refusing to take risks within our relationships and by refusing to be fully engaged in this precious life we are given.
And then there’s Jesus. The journey of Holy Week tells of failure writ large. Jesus, Love made manifest, comes into the world only to be rejected, fully and completely. To fail. The cross proclaimed to one and all that this traveling rabbi, so full of ideas, insights, hope and healing, failed. Period. End of story. And yet, the story doesn’t end there. Love bursts through failure, even death, to reveal wholly and completely who we are and whose we are. We are precious and beloved. And nothing, neither failure nor death nor anything else, can make that reality untrue. Ever.
I see scripture, the creeds and all of the traditions handed down to us as a wonderful treasure trove filled with the ways in which people in various times and situations sought to make meaning of their lives, including both personal and collective failures, to make sense of what they had inherited together with the new information available to them in their moment. And now is our moment. We are called, invited, encouraged, to take what has come before together with what we experience and know now and do our best to shape our understanding of God, ourselves, our world and the relationships therein. We may not get it all right, but that isn’t the point. The invitation is to engage, to risk trying and, in the process, to make our own meaning, preferably in community. We are called by Love to love and to be loved, to show up in our lives—fully and completely.
What might be unleashed if we all let go of our need to get it right, of risking failure even, in favor of full engagement with all that has come before, with the world as we know it today, with ourselves and with the Holy One in our midst? It means being vulnerable, failing and sometimes hurting. And it is the only way of truly living into the truth of being loved. Perhaps in this instance, the call to ‘failure is not an option,’ is the call to step out of our comfort zone and into the fullness of life.
Faithfully, Pastor Elizabeth