How to Fail Successfully in 2020

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Rather than making resolutions about how we’re going to accomplish great things in 2020, let's do something different: resolve how to do well at failure.

We'll all be failures in 2020. We don’t need prophets or crystal balls to reveal this to us. Just stand in front of a mirror. Is the image staring back the same image that’s always been there? Well, there’s the smoking-gun evidence.

New year, same you. The same you that’s failed, in ways big and small, your entire life.

The sooner we embrace this stark realism, the better. Sure, we may drop a few pounds. Make a few extra dollars. But 99.9% of who we are will remain unchanged—including our uncanny ability to fail.

Rather than making resolutions about how we’re going to accomplish great things in 2020, we might do something different: resolve how to do well at failure. If it’s going to happen anyway—and, unless you’re drunk or high or delusional, you know it’s true—then let’s learn how to fail successfully.

So, here are three ways to fail well in 2020.

1. Embrace your failure as a vivid reminder of why God doesn’t believe in you.

It's around this time of year that we see quotes that tell us that God believes in us. Actually, he doesn't. That's just your typical Americanish pop-psychology that gets a big fat F in Theology 101.

God doesn’t believe in you. He doesn't trust you. He has less-than-zero faith in you. It’s not as if your life inspires him. He’s well aware of your pettiness, childishness, and irrational fears. He knows how mean and petty you are about the smallest and stupidest things. No one is applauding your moral virtuosity in heaven.

If, as the Bible says, you shouldn’t put your trust in princes, in mortal man, then why in the world would God put his trust in you?

So, when you fail, embrace that failure as a reminder of why God doesn’t trust you.

What he does do, however, is this: he shows mercy to you through that failure and despite that failure. The Lord doesn’t believe in you but calls you to believe in his Son. His love never fails. His mercy never flops. He will never fail you.

2. Take advantage of your failure as a golden opportunity to eat humble pie.

We all have a sweet tooth when it comes to the cake of pride. Pride in our accomplishments, yes. Pride in how well we’ve done for ourselves, yes. But mainly pride in the fact that we’ve outperformed others. Our house has more square footage. Our tastes are more refined. Our life a little less screwed up than that total loser two cubicles down.

That is, until it’s not.

Some of us will divorce this year. Others will lose their jobs and maybe their homes. Your honor roll child will get a DWI or become pregnant at 15. That secret you've been hiding for years will come to light. Something will happen that will reveal the cake of pride is a biohazard. It poisons your soul.

When that happens, when failure falls like midnight upon your once bright life, take advantage of that opportunity to dish up a big piece of humble pie. Eat it willingly. In fact, go for seconds.

C. S. Lewis reminds us that humility is not thinking less of ourselves but thinking of ourselves less.

As the pie digests, remember that you are not God’s gift to humanity. You, like everyone, are rather a recipient of God’s gift to humanity—and that gift is named Jesus Christ. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble,” James tells us (4:6). And the grace of Christ is a feast divine.

3. Learn from your failure that everything you are and have is solely by grace.

Success, as enjoyable as it is, as good as it makes you feel, also gradually blinds you to the fact that everything you are and have is nothing but pure gift.

The more successful you are, the easier it becomes to buy into the lie that you earned your place, you deserve respect, you got where you are by your own doing. There is no more dangerous time than when everything is going well in your life. Because it’s then that the little god within you, the idol of self, waxes stronger, breaking his arm patting himself on the back for how well he’s done in crafting such a fine life for himself.

So God comes along to crush that puny god. And he often uses the sledgehammer of failure to do it. Your fine life crumbles. Your idol of self is unmasked as a demonic lie.

As much as this unveiling hurts, it’s also an extraordinary gift. It’s our Father’s way of reminding you that every good and perfect gift falls from heaven into your lap. It’s by grace you live, breathe, work, marry, have children, and do anything right or noble or good.

Look around you: whatever you see that’s good, thank God for it. It’s his gift, not your entitlement. And when you fail, cherish that moment as a reminder that everything you are and have is solely by grace.

An Upside-Down Blessing

As we step into a new year, may this benediction, written by Larry Hein for Brennan Manning, be ours as well: "May all your expectations be frustrated, may all your plans be thwarted, may all your desires be withered into nothingness, that you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child and sing and dance in the love of God who is Father, Son, and Spirit."

In other words, may God lead us into an upside-down kind of blessedness, in which we die to ourselves so as to live in Christ, find his strength in our weakness, and discover that true happiness is found only in the life our Creator designed for us to have.

Amen. Let it be so.