What Linus Taught Me About Life After Failure
Linus: You weren’t in school today, Charlie Brown. All the kids missed you.
Charlie Brown: I’m never going to school again as long as I live.
Linus: We had a ball game after school.
Charlie Brown: I don’t care. I’m never going to play ball either. I’m never going to do anything again.
Linus: Well, I can understand how you feel. You worked hard, studying for the spelling bee, and I suppose you feel you let everyone down, and you made a fool out of yourself and everything. But did you notice something, Charlie Brown?
Charlie: What’s that?
Linus: The world didn’t come to an end.
(From A Boy Named Charlie Brown)
It was a Wednesday night. I can’t even remember what the topic was, but in the middle of my sermon, I was mentioning toxic beliefs we can have driving our lives. One of the examples I gave off-hand just happened to be the pithy saying my church used for their capital campaign slogan (think YOLO). Whoops. When words came out of my mouth, I wanted to grab them out of the air and stuff them back in.
As soon as the service was over, I went to my office and crawled under the desk. Literally. Here I was, a grown woman, hiding under my desk thinking that whatever I’d just said was the end of my ministerial career. I swore that I’d never come out from under that desk, never ever show my face at church again.
…But I had to go back the next day. I sheepishly walked into work on Thursday, steeling myself for the conversations to follow, but nothing happened. Coffee brewed. The copier hummed. Deliveries came. A steady stream of people walked in and out of the office and none of them were there to remind me of the night before. When I finally got the courage to talk to the senior pastor, he had nothing but encouragement about how well I’d done. He didn’t even notice.
I tend to specialize in particularly embarrassing mistakes, ones with a microphone attached, in front of a crowd, recorded for the internet to hear for all time. (Yay! /s) The above evening wasn’t the first time I said or did something embarrassing and certainly wasn’t the last. Maybe that’s why I related to Charlie Brown refusing to get out of bed after losing the spelling bee in front of a lot of people. It felt like the world ended, but after Linus encouraged him to get up and get on with living, Charlie saw that life went on as before, right down to Lucy with that vexing football.
Common questions I hear people asking have to do with failure. “What if I try this and it doesn’t work?” “What if I put myself out there and no one responds?” “What if I make a fool out of myself?” Failure is so powerful that even its possibility is enough to stop us in our tracks.
Perhaps the most powerful tool for bouncing back from a mistake is to understand how God sees us. One passage that is particularly meaningful for me is Psalm 103, where David gives us a glimpse of who we are in God’s eyes:
He does not punish us for all our sins;
he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
He has removed our sins as far from us
as the east is from the west.
The Lord is like a father to his children,
tender and compassionate to those who fear him. (Psalm 103: 10-13)
Even in our sins, the wrongs we actively choose, the Lord offers forgiveness and restoration. It says he removes them from us as far as the east is from the west. When God forgives us, those sins are gone forever. That’s how God treats the things we choose to do. Of course he can redeem the mistakes we make, too! Because of Jesus, failure isn’t fatal; in fact, it’s usually the first verse in a song of redemption.
When we understand and absorb this knowledge, it gives us a safe place to land when we feel beyond lovable, unforgivable, irredeemable. It gives us the courage to get up again and realize that the world didn’t end. There’s freedom in knowing that you are loved, whether you feel lovable. You can be forgiven, even if you don’t think you deserve it. The same mighty hand and outstretched arm can still reach out, pick you up again, and start a new chapter in your life.
As we start a new week, my prayer is that you would understand the freedom that can only be found in Jesus. May you walk confidently, knowing you are redeemable, even from the most cringe-worthy, heartbreaking moments.