Steve Matthews

Faith is a journey, not a destination. And God’s love and grace accompanies us every step of the way. Unfortunately, our society and even the people closest to us can become focused on day-to-day “destinations,” which often show up in the guise of goals and expectations, successes and failures: Did we get into the college we wanted? Did we make the cross-country team? Are we good-looking enough or funny enough to attract that “special someone”? How will we know when we have arrived—when we are “good enough”?

We are going to fail. We fail because we are human and thus imperfect, and sometimes the pain of failure can be severe. I often wonder if our measures for “success” and our society’s fear of failure set us up for suffering. Having goals and feeling that we are moving forward are important, but we also need to be aware of whose standards we are trying to meet. God cares for us because of who we are, not because of what we do or don’t do. I think God cares less about our standards for success and more about the ways we open ourselves up to love and new possibilities.

Even when we fail at things that truly matter to us, God encourages us to pick ourselves up, to engage again in life, and to partner with God in creative acts. Wallowing in shame, blame, or guilt can keep us stuck; God’s love is always on the move, calling us forward. “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11, NRSV).

In so many ways, failure is an invitation into a spiritual practice of forgiveness, re-engagement, and hope. Theologian C. Robert Mesle writes, “God is constantly, in every moment and in every place, doing everything within God’s power to bring about the good. . . . God works by sharing with us a vision of the better way, of the good and the beautiful.” Yes, we will fail; but in these moments, the invitation is always to deeper relationship with God and to reengagement with God’s creative energy.



This week pay attention to your failures—even the small ones. Notice what you say to yourself and how you treat yourself when you fail. Do you beat yourself up? Is your sense of failure based on unrealistic expectations imposed on you by society or by another person? Or is it based on a violation of your own standards of behavior or perhaps God’s?

Take a deep breath. Now rebound. Name what is happening inside of you. Be aware of God’s presence and activity in the world, and choose to re-engage with life. “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7, NRSV). The world needs your expression of God’s love lived out to its fullest. Even when we fail, God meets us in the next moment and calls us to loving, creative action. What is your call in this moment? What is your next step in the journey of faith?

Steve Matthews was a youth minister for over 15 years. He is now a spiritual director, a coach working with redeveloping churches, a Senior Associate Consultant with FaithX Strategic Missional Consulting, and the producer of StoryPaths, a program of the Episcopal Church that collates stories of local church and neighborhood transformation.

—from devozine (November/December 2019). Copyright © 2019 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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