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Facing the F-word

fail_stencil2It’s been a couple of weeks since David C Cook went live with the official Losers Like Us webpage. I’ll admit, seeing my book on websites like Amazon is a bit surreal, and I am very grateful for the opportunity.

But I also must admit, I cringe every time I read the first sentence of the book’s description: “After permanently failing his PhD…” There it is: the “F” word. I am a failure.

Of course, I can’t complain too much. This is the book description I provided. But it still stings.

I could have sanitized the word choice. I could have softened it to: “After not receiving his Ph.D…” Or I could have played the victim card: “After getting robbed of his Ph.D…” After all, there may be some truth to that.

But I went with a powerfully ugly word — a word filled with humiliation and finality, like a tattoo on my forehead: FAIL. And now I am forever associated with that word on websites all over the world — Amazon and Barnes & Noble and David C Cook and many more — for any and all to see.

This probably won’t look too good if it comes up in a job interview.

However, even though claiming failure brings up so much shame, I chose to go with it. Intentionally go with it. Deliberately associate with it. I have spent so much of my life running from failure, always trying to dodge it and start over elsewhere with a somewhat-clean slate.

But now I can’t run from failure; I’ve gone public with it. God in his divine ingenuity is forcing me to face it, accept it, deal with it, and above all seek the Great “I Am” from within it.

Likewise, the Bible never sanitizes the failures of biblical “heroes.”  Instead it exposes them, in all their ugliness, for billions to see.

For example, when David glimpses and falls for Bathsheba, the Bible could have omitted the fact that she had a husband, Uriah. Without that part, at most David would be guilty of royal voyeurism, unable to take his eyes off the beautiful woman on a nearby rooftop. Heck, since his feelings were returned, the story might even be considered romantic.

But the Bible includes Uriah — the husband David had to eliminate in order to get her. Now David is no longer just a palace peeping tom. He is an adulterer, a conniver, and finally a murderer. In today’s degrees, what he did to Uriah would be classified as murder in the first degree, willful and premeditated. (Adding extra punch to David’s sin, the name of Bathsheba, the woman whose marriage he destroyed, means “daughter of the oath.”)

Likewise, David’s son Solomon is famous for requesting and receiving great wisdom from God. If the story stopped there, it would be a wonderful narrative — all warm and fuzzy. But it also describes how Solomon foolishly marries pagan wives and forces the people into servitude, fulfilling God’s warnings about all of the misfortunes a king would bring upon them (1 Samuel 8:10-17, I Kings 5:13). Despite his wisdom, Solomon too was a failure.

The list goes on. Abraham is a compulsive liar. His immediate descendants are so dysfunctional and manipulative, they could star in a sitcom. Rahab is a prostitute. Moses and Paul are both hot-tempered murderers. And the disciples…well, we’ll talk about the disciples in Losers Like Us. The Bible just doesn‘t hold anything back.

Failure is an ugly, humiliating word. But the gospel is about redemption, which only works in the context of failure — not in the context of those who think they have their crap together.

I am not being hard on myself by acknowledging my failure. Instead, I am acknowledging the power of the gospel in my failure through a journey that has taken, so far, six long years since then. The more I try to sanitize my failures, the less powerful the gospel.

In 2001, I thought my life story would be about overcoming my past to finish a bachelor’s, a master’s, and a doctoral degree. In 2008, when that last one went down in flames, I thought my story was over for good — I had failed, and that was the end of it. But now, in 2014, I find my story is about failure redeemed. Yet I am not the one doing the redeeming; I am the failure. The redemption comes from my Savior, whose resurrection and ultimate redemption of humanity we celebrated just last week, on Easter Sunday.

Yes, failure is an embarrassing word. However, the darker the failure, the more magnificently the redemption shines through.

Published in1 & 2 Kings1 & 2 SamuelFailure

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