One of the things I love most about God is how He often and purposefully allows and then guides people through disappointment and failure.
From the time of our birth until we become adults, we must learn to survive. Everything from learning how to add and subtract, how to trust others, and how to gain the confidence to make important decisions.
And as we all know, learning often takes some time – and a lot of patience. To help us along the way in this learning process, He made us to be dependent on our parents, on each other – and on Him.
I’m currently enrolled in a Bible study, discovering and studying the Gospel of Mark. I’m really enjoying the passages when Jesus instructs and teaches His disciples. A lot of times they seem to have no clue what He’s even talking about. But they continue to trust Him.
They walked beside Him for a long time, yet for some of them, they didn’t seem to learn everything they needed to know and understand until He returned to heaven. Or even until when the Holy Spirit came down on them.
I often think if I had been one of His disciples that definitely would have been me. I probably would have been confused a lot. All those parables and metaphors would have had my head spinning.
But even though some of the disciples needed a bit of extra time to figure things out, and sometimes failed along the way, it was ok.
Because failure is a part of life.
It’s a part of the process.
It’s a part of our development.
God allows us to fail, so we can keep trying. So we can dust ourselves off. So we can learn and improve. And so we can rely on Him more. Because He loves us.
And He does all of this without keeping some scorebook that tallies and details all of our screw-ups. He just simply wants what’s best for us. And He patiently waits for – and helps us – to figure it out. He works it out so that when the proverbial light bulb in our minds finally turns on, we get it.
Ok – so, after graduating high school, I took a gap year between completing high school and going to college. I’d like to claim I traveled Europe, wrote my first novel, or something equally exciting. But the truth is, I just wasn’t ready to go to college.
After an exciting year that was filled with watching a lot of television and earning a living selling Levi jeans at the mall, I decided it was time for me to make my way in the world.
I went to college and completed a degree in accounting. I’m often asked, “why accounting?” to which I really have no answer. At least not a good answer.
Throughout school I was terrible at math. All math. Growing up dyslexic (did I spell that right?), I was able to train myself to read and write, but math was always just a jumble of numbers. I’ll never forget how proud I was to pass ninth grade Algebra with a D+. I passed it! No more numbers mixed with letters.
Nevertheless, when it came time for me to pick a major in college, I decided on accounting. In my mind, accountants seemed to make good money and had nice families. It made perfect sense to me.
I actually did pretty well, earning decent grades, but there was just one problem.
I didn’t understand it.
After graduating I ended up going to work for a bank in their accounting department. My title was, “Staff Accountant.” It sounded so impressive when I told my friends and family what I did. But there was only one problem.
I didn’t understand it.
I would spend each day putting together balance sheets and liability statements, hoping that the numbers equaled.
But by all intents and purposes, I was a failure. I had spent years learning something, which in the end, wasn’t right for me.
My manager even knew I was a failure, but she liked me and thought I was funny, so she would go behind me each day and fix my errors, just so I could keep the job.
And so it went, for over two years, I did a job that I had absolutely no business doing.
I’ll never forget one day, sitting at my desk, a day like any other, when I heard a voice that said, “It’s time to go, Alan.” And of course I ignored it.
But the voice came back again a day or so later saying, “It’s time to go, Alan.”
So, I stood up from my desk, walked over to Mr. Sheffield’s office (the man who led the entire department) and I looked him straight in the eye and I said, “I’m done.”
He said, “You’re done with the balance sheet? Ok, let’s have you work on reconciling some statements.”
“I’m done here,” I replied back.
He looked at me with a very puzzled look on his face and after a very long awkward pause just said, “Ok, Alan.”
And with that my career in accounting was over. I was a failure.
But I knew without a doubt that God was talking to me. I just didn’t know why or what came next.
Both Mr. Sheffield and I agreed that I should probably just leave on the spot, versus staying for two more weeks. So, I packed up my two years of belongings from my desk (a coffee cup and a magazine) and got in my car to go home.
On the drive home I started thinking about how when I was a kid, I always enjoyed creative things. I would spend hours designing things or scribbling down short fiction stories on paper. “Why had I not pursued my creative side?” I thought.
And it was then, as I neared the interstate exit that I took every day to return home … I kept driving.
I drove for another hour until I reached James Madison University.
I parked my car and wandered aimlessly around the campus until I finally found the admissions office. I informed them that I was there to enroll and major in, “something creative,” and to start right away.
After staring at me blankly for what seemed like an eternity, the admissions counselor proceeded to explain to me that the current month was February, and that I would need to apply, and if accepted, I would not be able to start until the upcoming Fall semester.
I looked at her and said, “Mm-hmm, yes you’re right, let’s do that.”
Two years later I graduated with a degree in marketing, with multiple minors in Advertising, Graphic Design and English.
And thankfully, since graduating college for a second time, I have done well utilizing the creative side of my brain.
Looking back, when it comes to my time immersed in math and accounting, I was a failure. Completely and utterly.
And it’s ok. Because without experiencing the inevitable failures we endure in life, we wouldn’t be learning lessons. We wouldn’t be growing.
God sent us Jesus to help us navigate this world, because like sheep, we have a knack for getting lost occasionally.
Things go wrong that either shape us or scar us. And as it turns out, I learned a lot more than just balancing numbers during my stint as an accountant.
A lot more.
I’ve had things go well in my life, and other things go not so well. Some real doozies, just like you.
But I decided a long time ago not to keep score, because I have learned a new way to measure things.
God is there for us, in both our successes and failures. And He often asks us to consider a new way to think about things. A new perspective on something very familiar.
I used to be afraid of failing. Always.
But now when I do fail, I try to listen for God’s voice — to show me a new perspective or to teach me something that I had not known before.
Whether it be a job, a project, a relationship or something involving long division.
God is there waiting to teach us. Because He loves us.