Called to failure

(Click here for a video of John reading this Catch.)


by Marti Fischer

I had a call to a mission,

          Signed in my heart and sealed,

And I felt my success was certain,

          And the end seemed already revealed;

The sea was without a murmur,

          Unwrinkled its even flow,

And I heard the master commanding,

          And I was constrained to go.

But, out from the peaceful haven,

          There woke a terrible storm,

And the waves around were in chaos,

          And the land appeared without form

And I stretched my hands to the Father

          And cried in a chilling fear-

“Didst not Thou pledge Thy presence!

          And naught but failure is here!”

Then in the midst of the thunder

          There rose a still, small voice,

Clear through the roar of the waters,

          Deep through their deafening noise:

“Have I no calls to failure!

          Have I no blessing for loss!

Must not the way to thy mission

          Lie through the path of thy cross!”

It came as a revelation-

          It was worth the price of the gale

To know that the souls that conquer

          Must at first be the souls that fail-

To know that where strength is baffled

          I have reached the common ground

Where the highest meet with the lowly

          Where the heart of man is found

O door of the heart’s communion

          My Father gave me the key

When he called me out to the ocean,

          And summoned the storm to me;

For the wings of the storm that smote me

          Were the wings of humanity’s breast

As it moved on the face of the waters

          And sighed for an ark of rest

Years have gone by since that sadness

          And many an hour has come

When the storm in the ships of others

          Has signaled me out from home;

Yet I never can see that signal

          But I feel how much I owe

To the day that, when called to failure,

          My steps were constrained to go.

              —George Matheson

History is unrepeatable, historians say, but it can be re-lived many times in one’s memory. I like to savor my successes; my failures I’d rather forget. I’m gradually wondering, however, “How much I owe to the day that, when called to failure, my steps were constrained to go.”

Blunders, mistakes and missed opportunities could then be a means of grace and great blessing if I accept them as part of my call. “Souls that conquer must at first be the souls that fail.” I wish there was another way.

Through humiliation “strength is baffled,” I am disabused of my illusions of grandeur and brought very low. I do not like this. There, I am learning “to meet with the lowly.”[1] with my losses enabling me “to find the heart of man,” i.e., to get “in touch” with others’ feelings. I can surely empathize with those who have fallen; I can quickly accept and love them as no other can.

But must I let go of regret. “As long as I remain [constrained] by things that I wish had not happened — mistakes I wish I had not made — part of my heart remains isolated, unable to bear fruit in the new life ahead of me.”[2] Brooding over past disasters has and will continue to intimidate me, turning me away from love. And feelings of inadequacy will always isolate me, making me afraid to venture out again.

So I guess I can say that accepting my failures is simple proof that I am inadequate indeed. In the core of my being, God’s strength is made perfect in this weakness with grace to turn outward to others and to do so with greater compassion, sensitivity, wisdom and understanding. Thus it logically suggests that my mistakes are redeemed and put to God’s intended purpose.

Failure is not ruinous; I am called to failure and owe much to each time that I fail. The lessons that we learn there, “are worth the price of the gale.”

[1] I think Matheson is thinking here of Romans 12:16 and Paul’s admonition to “associate with the lowly.”

[2] Henri Nouwen

This entry was posted in Facing death, fear and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Called to failure

  1. Rest In Shalom, Peace Nichelle Nichols and David Warner…

  2. TimC in Oregon says:

    Thanks! I need this every day.
    And I am reminded of Mark 4:
    35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.”
    36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.
    37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.
    38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
    39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
    40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
    41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

  3. peter leenheer says:

    Failures to me are humiliating not devastating. Winston Churchill said, “Success is failure after failure without loss of enthusiasm”. That statement hints at something that is beyond us, but is attainable. That to me is God’s strength. The temptation is to succumb to the seeming devastation of a broken world, instead to sleep restfully in boat in the midst of a storm like Jesus did.

    it is without the loss of enthusiasm that we see that we are able to learn from our mistakes. i call them mistakes and refuse to call them failures. Mistakes can be corrected, failures are not always in that category. In distancing from arrogance and sacrifice of ego there is only the success of following God and his plan for me/us.

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