Front of a grocery cart against an out-focus grocery store aisle background

The Gift of Failure

Terry Lieb Facing Fear, Learning from Failure Leave a Comment

I could smell the rotisserie chicken as the Hispanic man placed three warm plastic dome containers on the checkout counter in front of me. I hadn’t eaten since lunch and my stomach was letting me know. I commented on how good the chicken smelled and that he must really be hungry! The man gave me a puzzled look and said something in what sounded like Spanish.

The teenager who was bagging the groceries interpreted the man’s response for me. “He said the chicken is lunch for him and several of his friends.” I could tell by the man’s bright orange reflective vest and grass-covered boots that he was probably one of the hundreds of Latin American folks working as landscapers in our retirement community in Central Florida.  The chicken was no doubt lunch for he and his coworkers as they took a quick break from their never-ending work keeping our community clean and beautiful.

Old white male, angry, pointing his fingerA senior couple entered the checkout line behind me and the woman began placing their items on the counter. The gentleman, looking over at the Hispanic man in front of me said rather loudly to his partner, “We have more illegals around here than you can shake a stick at!”

Without missing a beat, she shot back, “You’re wasting your time working part time at the golf course; anyone who is able to identify an illegal immigrant with a quick glance should be working for the border patrol! Imagine all the time and money you could save the U.S. government!”  He uttered a single grunt and turned his back. As I watched the Hispanic man pull a few crumpled bills and some change from his pocket to pay for the chickens, I hoped his lack of English spared him hearing the conversation behind me.

That’s when I heard it. The Nudge. The “still, small voice” within this bald head was clearer than usual.

“Thank the man for what he does every day to make your world a much more pleasant place and put the cost of his food on your credit card.”

It was a simple enough action. The nominal price of three grocery store chickens certainly wasn’t an issue. All I had to do was say something to the cashier; the bagger could translate my intentions to the man. But…I was paralyzed. Will he understand? Will he except my gesture of appreciation or might he be offended by my perceived charity? How will the cashier respond? Was part of my motive to make a statement to the man behind me? To shame him for his attitude?

By the time I began to sort through these conflicting voices, the man had paid for his items and was headed out the door. I was too late!

I am convinced the nudge was yet another gift from this “sneaky” God I am coming to know—a gift I left unopened. Even though I make a concerted effort to listen for God’s voice and have repeatedly seen the awe-inspiring effects when I do, I still ignored an opportunity to transform my day, my person, to possibly establish a new relationship. How might that simple action have affected that man? Could it have transformed his day? Or his co-workers’ when he told the story? What about the couple behind me? Was God’s nudge meant for them? Or perhaps the impact would have been felt by someone else within hearing distance. The cashier? The bagger? How might the ripple effects have spread out to people who’d never set foot in the grocery store? We’ll never know. All because I was afraid of what people would think.

I do know that at least one good thing came out of this experience: it reaffirmed my commitment to listening for and responding to God’s call. I certainly don’t want to make the same mistake again! Hopefully my failure to act this time will make me a little more likely to respond in a more timely fashion the next time I recognize that still, small voice within this bald head. And if that’s all that came of it, maybe that’s not so shabby.

But as it turns out, that wasn’t the end of the story.

When I shared a draft of this post with some family and close friends to get their feedback, it led to some surprisingly thought-provoking conversations. They seemed to think I was beating myself up unnecessarily, that the post presented me in a way that didn’t jibe with their experience of me. “You’re one of the least fearful and judgmental people I know,” said my friend Janelle. As satisfying to my ego as that was, it also got me to thinking. When faced with the question, am I judgmental or non-judgmental, fearless or fearful, isn’t the only honest answer, a resounding “YES!”? It isn’t an either/or. We are all always both.

There is a real danger in dualistic thinking. It can shut down our self discovery and growth since acknowledging a single instance of failure can shake the very foundation of our identity. I don’t see my acknowledgment of my failure that day as “beating myself up.” I failed, but that didn’t make me a failure. Sure, I was disappointed in myself, but it didn’t threaten my entire self image. It just confirmed my belief that our battles against fear, complacency, and selfishness are never once-and-done, but life-long struggles. Some people might see that as a reason for despair, but I think it is a cause for celebration. How boring life would be if we actually attained the perfection we’re seeking. Instead, we get to constantly grow and evolve. There’s always a new challenge—and a new chance—on the horizon. I feel blessed to know I’ve got more than enough rough edges to keep me occupied for several lifetimes!

Questions for Deepening Your Faith Journey

Think about a recent time you failed. How did you deal with it? How do you see it now?

In general, do you experience failure as something shameful that should be hidden or an opportunity for learning and growth?

Can you look at yourself—including your flaws and failings—“curiously” instead of “critically”? How do you think being less judgmental of your own failings might impact your judgments of others?

Where do you fall into “either/or” thinking? Does seeing things (or people!) as “all good” or “all bad” limit you from appreciating how things really are? How is seeing things in black and white helpful and/or hurtful?

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Click your favorite social share option below!
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments