Consider this list of words: unsuccess, non success, unfulfillment, nonfulfillment, forlorn hope, miscarriage, misfire, abortion, fizzle (colloq.), flop (slang), collapse, debacle, fiasco, dud (colloq.), washout (colloq.), bankruptcy, insolvency, crash, smash, wreck, ruin, fall, downfall.
This is the New Roget’s Thesaurus list of synonyms for what we think of as failure, and it’s pretty complete. In fact, it seems to grow more terrifying as it goes along. “Flop … fiasco, smash. . . ruin.”
One of America’s great moral weaknesses could be her refusal to accept anything resembling failure. Men who do not succeed simply have no place in our society. I suppose the indictment should not be limited to America, for the entire Western civilization is success happy. But in America success carries a big whip—a long, stinging whip which begins to strike even small children who are coerced into contests of all kinds and are pushed, pushed, pushed to win. Not to fail—to win.
Of course, no one should ever be urged to fail. That is ridiculous. One should only be urged to do one’s best—succeed or fail in the process. On paper all of this seems so obvious; I wonder at my need to set it down. And yet I, along with you and most of the people we know, have spent my life trying not to fail. The first humiliating failure I remember occurred when I was about ten years old. I flunked mathematics, and I wanted to die, because my grades in school were my pride and joy. I remember crying into my pillow at night with the bitter sting of guilt I carried from that failure.
My second humiliating failure had to do with what the educational system used to call the Palmer Method. This, as some of you will recall, was the devil’s own device for torturing children who just didn’t happen to be born with fingers adept at making “round and round” circles and “push- pull” marks time after lime and page after page with nary a line misplaced. The idea was to “rubber rubber” when you wrote, somehow rolling your forearm on the inner muscle and holding the pen just so as you rolled. The most frightening part of it was the Palmer Method Lady, a veritable frigate of a woman, who came to my class room and sailed haughtily up and down between the rows of desks, peering approvingly or disdainfully down at what we victims were attempting. She scared the living daylights out of me! Even worse than her rubber heels which kept me from guessing where she would appear next was the smile she gave to the students who could perform that weird ritual with pen, ink, and paper and the snorts we failures received.
I don’t think it mattered one bit whether or not I could make all those circles and push-pulls without a line misplaced or without spilling a blob of ink every time 1 managed to reach almost the last page. still, I was made to believe that if I failed, something was dreadfully wrong with me.
None of this is intended as a diatribe against education. I only mention these incidents here be cause the suffering I experienced at my failures is relevant.
It was genuine suffering. I doubt that it marked me, since my young mother happened to be enlightened beyond her time and kept reminding me that making those “round and rounds” and “push-pulls” need not affect the success of my future life. She had wisdom enough to teach my brother and me that we might not succeed in everything we tackled, but we could always do our best.
Lewis E. Lawes once wrote: “Never give a man up until he has failed at something he likes.” Do you agree with that? I don’t. I see his intent, but I don’t agree. In fact, I think we fail at doing many things we like. I like to write books, but they are not all huge successes. I like to make new friends and have time and a rested mind to answer my mail with care, but I often fail to budget my time in order to accomplish these things which I like. I try, and sometimes I succeed, but more often than not I fail to find time and a back rested enough from having worked on a manuscript or answered “duty” mail. I fail myself and I fail my friends.
So do you, I’m sure.
We all fail our families, our neighbors, and our friends when we refuse to take care of our health. I am failing my mother and everyone else who loves me when I repeatedly allow my self to gain a dozen extra pounds of fat! Right now, I’ve got it pretty well licked (with my physician’s approval), thanks to Dr. Stillman’s Quick Weight Loss Diet, but no one knows better than I that I can fizzle again. We are all adept at being flascos, washouts, duds, flops.
I was interested in finding the words insolvency and bankruptcy in the Thesaurus list of synonyms for failure. The mother of a friend of mine, left with unsurmountable debts after the death of her husband, had to declare bankruptcy. The daughter described the particular shame and agony of such a procedure so graphically that I suffered along with them. “Forlorn hope surrounds such an experience, I’m sure. We have read and heard about—perhaps known—men who took their own lives rather than declare bankruptcy. The suffering from this kind of failure could easily drive a proud man to his death—or a proud woman for that matter. In us all is at least the potential for drastic action when we face the panic of no funds.
Last year a woman wrote asking why God didn’t spare her husband who had, according to her letter, “died of a broken heart” because he had failed at his business and could no longer face seeing his wife and children suffer because of his failure. She wanted me to give her a definite answer, and, of course, I couldn’t. Her letter was just another affirmation of what I am attempting to communicate in this book.
As I see it, God had nothing directly to do with her husband’s death or his failure. God set into motion certain genetic laws, and some among us inherit smart business sense while others do not. Fortune, good and bad, is also a factor. Bad breaks come into the lives of Christians as well as non-Christians. One of the gentlest, kindest, most loving Christian men I know just can’t seem to make it in his chosen field. In fact, he’s fried all sorts of other fields and failed in those too. Why? Is there a pat answer here? Is his faith too small? In this man’s case, no. But what of the glib prosperous Christian businessmen who insist upon “giving God the glory”? I purposely italicized that word “insist,” because these fellows talk and write so much about how “God is blessing them” that they make me suspicious! Their pious talk has the ring of relieving them of some of the blame for all those amassed fortunes. It’s almost as though they’re saying, “Well, I can’t help being so rich and getting richer. I tithe, and the good Lord does the rest.”
Now, I ask you—why would God deliberately prosper one tithing Christian over another? Would God cause one devout brother to fail at every thing he fries only in order to strengthen that brother’s faith? Doesn’t God care about strengthening the faith of the prospering brother too? Does God play favorites? Would the Lord God “bless” one business with so much profit that the children of the boss can zoom around our highways in sports cars while the children of another equally spiritual man lack money for school supplies?
The idea is ridiculous.
But we are more ridiculous when we attempt to confine God’s activity in any life to our under standing of what may be happening. The New Testament is there for us to read—to read and reread—but I dare you to find one line in it which implies that God is going to grant special favors for faith in Himself. In the Old Testament, yes; but its great value is that it moves relentlessly toward the New. Jesus came to reveal God as He is, not as we wish Him to be. Jesus came to make God plain: to clarify the universal human need for a Savior and to be that Savior. But in His coming, He also said: “In this world ye shall have tribulation.  Not once did He even intimate that He and the Father had special favorites among us. Jesus came to earth as a helpless baby, born into the family of a man and woman of moderate means. He lived penniless, slept on hillsides and in borrowed beds, and ate what people gave Him to eat.
Why, if material “blessings” and financial prosperity are Gods way of showing His love, would His Only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, have had to be buried in a borrowed tomb?
I went “round the bush” on this subject with a wealthy man who is also a sincere Christian. He gave me the old bromide about gratitude. “Genie, aren’t we to give God the glory? Aren’t we to give thanks?”
Of course, we are to give God the glory. Of course, we are to give thanks. But St. Paul did say, “In everything give thanks I’ve never yet heard a man thank God for a business failure or the loss of an investment, have you? It has been said that “Sometimes a noble failure serves the world as faithfully as a distinguished success.” I believe that, but few of us speak of our “noble failures.” Mainly, I think, because we have been taught not to fail, and if we do, to keep it a secret. We have been led to believe that there is shame in failure, What about Jesus? Wasn’t He considered a failure by the world in which He lived? His promised kingdom did not materialize at all—at least not in the way the people expected it. And isn’t this the key to the problem of failure?
Does God measure blessings in dollars and cents, or does He measure them in kingdom terms? Jesus brought the potential for an inward kingdom, a rule for the peoples of the earth so predicated on love that the inner being of every
man who embraced it could be untangled—freed  to reach toward his fellows.
Great riches complicate. I’m far from rich now, but sometimes I almost long for the old days when I had no taxes to pay, no interest rates to worry about, and no accountant to keep me in Uncle Sam’s good graces. Making even a fair living complicates so many things that I will never believe God equates this kind of so-called success with a “blessing.” He came to simplify, not to complicate.
Another area in which women, in particular, struggle with failure is the matter of childlessness. Well, this has tormented a certain type of woman since the days of Abraham’s Sarah. But here again we need to be realistic, to stop leaning on old cliches. Does God send every child who is born into the world? Our world is in desperate danger of disaster because we do have a population explosion on our hands! Not only are millions of children going hungry, but cities the world over are frantically hunting ways to dispose of the waste created by the people we already have. Does God care about the environment He created for earth people? Does He care about the hungry children? Doesn’t God know about the conditions now existing from over-population? Is He really “blessing” the poor family with twelve children and “depriving” another well-to-do man and wife of even one child? Don’t you honestly think God is more balanced in His viewpoint? Wouldn’t He find it more creative if some of the affluent childless couples adopted and  fed and clothed a few of the underprivileged children who will otherwise never know normal, healthy lives?
Isn’t it foolish to nurse a sense of failure at  being childless when God’s kind of creativity could remedy it?
Now, I’m sure someone is going to be furious or hurt because I have said God does not “send” children into the world. I did not say that, of course. But I do hope we will free God from always having to act according to what we’ve believed or taken for granted about Him. Children interest me very much. I see what Jesus meant when He urged us to be like them. And I’m sure when two people love each other in Christ that His hand is in the wonder of the coming of their children. Still, do we dare go on being so pat about Him? Would these child less women feel they were such failures if they looked around at the over-populated world and the starving children in it?
There is really only one point to be made here. We can neither blame nor praise God for our blessings or failures until we have opened our minds enough to let His sanity take over. Is sanity too strong a word? I don’t think so, but how about clear-sightedness? God sees clearly into each human heart and mind and into each circumstance.
The God who flung the heavens into space, the planets into orbit—the Cod who created violets and waving Spanish moss won’t be confined to any human concept. It is, of course, our distorted concept of Him which goes into that pat  answer we concoct, and it is we who are the losers when we do not find Him exactly as we decided He should be.
Everyone fails at something, or he has made no effort. Only those who make no effort are exempt. Failure is an integral part of being alive. Success can be, too, but Jesus didn’t come to this earth to scatter blessings and success among the faithful. He came so that everyone could find out what the Father is really like.

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