From the moment I heard the phrase “epic fail,” I chose not to make it part of my vocabulary. It seemed like everywhere I turned, I would hear people jokingly say “epic fail” to describe anything from burnt toast to a catastrophic train accident. This type of phrase, known as a “meme” (rhymes with “team”), is a cultural symbol or social idea that transmits quickly from person to person and becomes part of the fabric of our language and culture.
The first time my husband and I heard our boys say it, we added it to the list of “banned words” for our household. We didn’t want our boys over-using such a negative and exaggerated phrase to label mistakes, whether they were theirs or someone else’s. If they viewed every mistake as an “epic fail,” we thought they’d be less likely to stretch themselves to try new things. Failure and mistakes are valuable tools for learning and we didn’t want them emphasized in such a negative way. Over-inflated descriptions like that have a way of defining us, even when they’re said in a joking manner.
When I read Beth Moore’s comments about the word “failure” in Children of the Day, the choice we’d made to ban the term was reaffirmed. She says: “Satan loves to fuel our feelings of failure. Just when we finally muster the courage to act or take a stand for the gospel, he prompts us to believe we blew it. Our feelings of failure can start an ongoing cycle of inadequacy: If we feel like failures, we’ll act like failures and, if we let that condemnation go unchecked, we’ll make our next decision out of the same perceived defeat” (Children of the Day, p. 41).
The Apostle Paul rejected the idea of failure and encouraged the Thessalonians to do the same. Acts 17:1-9 describes his visit to Thessalonica with Silas and Timothy and the riot that started as a result of his teaching. Their visit to Thessalonica ended with the three men fleeing the city at nightfall, leaving the new believers behind to deal with the mess. Still, in his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul says:
“You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else” (1 Thessalonians 2:1-6a, NIV).
Paul did not view their efforts in Thessalonica as a failure because regardless of the outcome, he knew that he, Silas and Timothy pleased God by sharing the gospel with pure motives. They didn’t try to put a positive spin on a bad situation; they simply didn’t see it as a failure in any way.
How I wish I could say the same of myself. I’ve often let my perceived failures hinder me from moving forward with something that God is calling me to do. Once my feelings get hurt or my ego is injured, I’m tempted to sit on the sidelines and nurse my injuries instead of getting back into the game and trying again.
I’ve dealt with this repeatedly over the last few years as I’ve been growing and learning as a writer. It can be frightening to share a piece I’ve written and to ask for constructive feedback. Sometimes the observations people make sting. A few times I’ve even been brought to tears and have wanted to give up. However, I’ve begun to embrace those constructive comments and harsh words as opportunities to continue improving. I’m beginning to see my mistakes as tools to teach me. Since the ultimate goal of my writing is to encourage, inspire and challenge people in their faith, I want it to be the best it can be. This means learning from my mistakes and pressing on rather than letting them define me. My prayer is that, like Paul, my focus is not on pleasing my readers, but pleasing God.
When our efforts don’t look successful from a worldly perspective, it’s important to remember that: “Christ’s economy completely redefines failure…We can’t let Satan shut us in or he wins the battle. He’s trying to make wound-lickers out of warriors. When God opens the door again, let’s stand back up, brush ourselves off, and step through it” (Children of the Day, p. 42).
Paul reminds us of the power we can access through Jesus: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13, NIV). Don’t let Satan deceive you with the sting of a past “failure” or the fear of a future one. Instead, adopt Paul’s attitude and reject the idea of the “epic fail.” If your motivation is pure and your goal is to please God, you will be a success every time, regardless of what the world sees.
The band MercyMe has a fantastic song out right now about rejecting the label of “failure.” Click on the link and be inspired by the catchy tune of “Greater.”
(Moore, Beth; Children of the Day; 2014; Lifeway Press; http://www.lifeway.com)
(For more information about memes, you can visit: http://netforbeginners.about.com/od/weirdwebculture/f/What-Is-an-Internet-Meme.htm)