I just got back from Indianapolis, Indiana, where I got to attend Christian Community Development Association’s national conference. It was just as encouraging and challenging as in past years, and it feels pretty cool to hear ‘big names’ in the Christian faith (John Perkins, Jim Wallis, Shane Claiborne) speak to thousands of men and women from around the country about what it means to love the poor in a way that reflects the heart of God, and honors the image of God in every man and woman.
There are also a lot of presenters whom I have never heard of, from places I’ve never been, who bring an incredibly diverse array of experiences to the conversations that take place. In addition to challenging and equipping one another to do more effective ministry, each person seems to tell an honest and moving story about the neighborhood they live in and the ways, big or small, that God is using them to love the poor.
In sharing these stories, speakers and attendees share in celebrating the victories they have witnessed. Victories of varying scale – an inner-city kid who beat the odds to make it to college, a neighborhood that came together to surround a pregnant teenager with love and support, a drug addict who is still a drug addict but now loves Jesus.
My favorite stories are actually not the stories of victory or success. My favorites are the stories of failure. Community development ideas that just didn’t produce results. Political protests that ended in the whole crew getting arrested. Attempts to share the gospel that were met with rejection. I love these stories because they give an answer to the lurking question that often keeps us from following God’s call or command: “What if I fail?”
The answer is simple. I will. You will. And we get back up and try again. It seems the men and women who have experienced the greatest failures also have the greatest hope. Because they have persevered through the discouragement and the dark days. They’ve seen their own fallibility and learned not to think so highly of themselves. They have the life experience to know that the most inspiring stories of success were stories of failure up until a crucial turning point. But if we are to witness that turning point, we can’t use failure as an excuse to walk away.
In my eagerness to do something that really matters in this world, I often wonder whether I will contribute to any great victories through my life, and if so on what scale. But I am becoming more curious to know what my greatest failures will be. I hope they will be the kind that involved significant risk, sacrifice for the sake of others, and a lot of hope in the goodness of God and the people who are made in His image.