Failure and isolation. Sometimes I wonder if one breeds the other. It makes sense to me. First of all, I would rather not fail in anything, but if I do fail, then I would prefer it not be seen by others. Also, when I fail, even my emotions drive me to isolation; in my embarrassment, I would like to hide under a rock until people forget—until I forget. Something about failure is painful, and it drives us to isolation. But, I also think isolation leads to failure. The writer of Hebrews seems to assume the same. “Exhort one another every day […] that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (3:13). It is pretty challenging to give or receive exhortation if you are isolated. Without the exhortation of others, we are barreling down a river towards the waterfall of sin (failure to obey). Failure breeds a longing for isolation. Isolation leads us to failure.
It’s a vicious and deadly cycle, but what if God has a different plan? What if God’s plan is the opposite of our desire to run and hide? I think God wants to use our failures to encourage and remind others that they are not alone. In sharing our failures (not boasting in them or glorifying them), we let people in to see the real us—the us that doesn’t have it all together. The us that is prone to stumble. The prideful us that thinks we can solve problems with our own strength. Any time that version of “us” takes over, failure is sure to follow. So, as I spend time with students and encourage them towards obedience to Christ, I share how I have messed up in my pursuit of obedience.
Somewhere along the line, Christians began to be perceived as having it all together, and I don’t think we’ve done enough to dissolve the misconception. Moreover, I believe that the stereotype of perfection prevents the gospel from going forth for two reasons. First, a Christian is not going to go share their faith if they believe that they’re not performing well in their own walk with Christ. Isn’t that excuse familiar? Have you ever told yourself that? I have surely repeated this to myself many times: “You cannot go share the gospel with that person if you’re messing up yourself! You need to get yourself together first!” Secondly, I think non Christians are afraid to engage Christians in conversation. They may be aware that their life is not perfect, and they say to themselves, “I am not perfect. I cannot live that life. Why even bother asking questions?”
So, for the sake of our sanctification and for the sake of thousands of lost souls around us, may we grow in openness, honesty, community, and vulnerability.