But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run, and not be weary, they shall walk, and not faint. – Isaiah 40:31
I was in my third year of driving to Bethel Christian Church. It was a small country church of down home, really good folks, and we got along well. But the two-hour trip was really getting old. On Friday afternoons we packed up the VW bus, which could easily hold Marion, myself, the baby, the high chair, the playpen, suitcases, diapers, food, books, and other necessities for a weekend trip. On Sundays, we returned late, tired from being gone from home, and tired from travel, church work, and the late night youth meeting. We usually arrived home about 11:00 pm unless the VW blew an engine—which it did three times during our tenure at Bethel.
Late night talks were a necessity as Marion’s primary task as navigator was to keep me awake. The long talks finally turned to the discussion of changing churches. With the mixed feeling of sadness and excitement, I began to ask around about a local church. The search uncovered an opening at Westcliff United Methodist Church for a full-time, experienced Methodist Associate Minister with a strong background in youth ministry. I was none of the above. My initial inquiries brought knowing smiles and vague answers. My seminary field supervisor apologized for laughing. He then assured me that I was out of my league. I was insulted, hurt, and challenged to go ahead and apply. Following several weeks of interviews and negotiating, I became the associate Minister of the Westcliff United Church. I was ecstatic.
For two years I was on a roll. The church job was going great. We opened a youth center, celebrated on ski trips, slaved on work projects, and grew together on numerous retreats. Our youth group was the biggest in the city. Also I had been accepted for specialized study at the Pastoral Care Center, and graduation was in sight. Things were going great. As I looked down the road of my future, I decided my next step would be a Ph.D. at Boston University. It would be a specialized degree in the Psychology of the Religious Experience. Again well-meaning friends came out of their way to tell me not to bother, but to no avail. I labored over the paper work and fine-tuned the application to a work of art. There was no way that they wouldn’t be impressed with my track record. I ceremoniously took the application to the downtown post office with a few of my closest friends for a ritualistic mail drop. The idea of express mail was born that day. My rejection letter returned faster than I had even expected my letter to get them. And why did it have to be a form letter? Insult had been added to the pain of my injury.
I still have the letter. For many years it hung framed alongside my diplomas. It was not so much a reminder of my failure as it was a reminder of my willingness to risk. After the pain had subsided, I was pleased to have at least tried. As much as I disliked failure, I would hate to go through life with no failures at all. It would mean that I never took chances, never tried my hardest, and never stretched my abilities. It would also mean that I listened to those who told me that I could not succeed.
There will always be those who try to hold us back. For whatever reasons, they will tell us that we’re not good enough, or strong enough, or smart enough. Or they’ll tell us that the situation is bad or that the timing is wrong. And often we will listen because we know that there is pain in failure. So we back away from the pain, draw an invisible line, and live within our own self-set limits of success. In a very real way it is we who set the limits of our own success. Failure is staying down when life hits us. Success is getting up one more time than we’re knocked down.
Prayer: Lord, let me be strong enough to risk failure, and to reject rejection. Amen.