Failing is for Everyone
I used to think that repentance meant to feel so bad about being bad that you promise to not be bad anymore. But now I see repentance as just returning again to God. Our contemplative in residence, James Wall tells about how difficult a certain Carmelite nun found contemplative prayer to be because her thoughts would wander a thousand times during a 20-minute prayer session. She was sure her teacher Thomas Merton would rebuke her for such a failure, so she was surprised when instead Merton said that her wandering thoughts were just 1,000 opportunities to return to God.
– Nadia Bolz-Weber, Ash Wednesday 2014
Failing is not just for failures, it’s for everyone. Failures just have more experience.
We’ve journeyed through seven days of Lent. By Ash Friday (just made that one up), I was tired of my Lenten discipline. While I’ve heard the suggestion to take up something instead of giving up something, I still haven’t given that a try. Here I am again, feeling a little grouchy, trying to wean myself from two not-to-be-mentioned substances.
Why I decided to go ahead and do the give-up thing again this year is this: I actually think there is some value in failing. I get another opportunity to return to God. Failing at disciplines and resolutions leaves us leaning on grace. (If you’re someone who has no trouble keeping disciplines and resolutions, well, you’re probably a better person than me.) The more extreme our Lenten devotion and the more we do the thing we said we wouldn’t – the more opportunities we get to return to God, to experience unbreakable grace for our broken selves.
The first Sunday in Lent we hear the story of Jesus’s forty day temptation in the wilderness. He experienced great temptations offering power and control. In Matthew’s version it culminated with, “The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’” Jesus does not choose the devil’s kingdoms (all the kingdoms of the world), and as such, becomes the enemy of the state. By rejecting fame, glory, and power, Jesus sides with the tortured, incarcerated, executed, hungry, powerless, and obscure. In our Lenten disciplines of rejecting our own temptations we join Jesus who says “no” to oppression and abusive power.
When we fail, we return to the Jesus who sides with failures.
Naomi Wildflower is a coffee snob, an urban cyclist, and an Episcopalian. While once a Torontonian, she currently lives in the beautiful neighbourhood of Kensington in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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