By Joe LaGuardia
In the new Supergirl television show starring Melissa Benoist as the other Caped Crusader, Supergirl must prove to friends and family that she and she alone is responsible for her power and place in the universe. Her youthful demeanor and gender work against her; everyone feels a need to protect her from danger, failure, or death.
She pushes back with ferocity and fierce independence, defying gender and generational stereotypes along the way, even when it means failing to get the job done.
The subplot expresses an important lesson to viewers: Failure is a part of the learning experience, and taking risks must include the cost of danger now and then.
This theme reminded me of a time not long ago when our young son took a test in karate. My wife was nervous about him getting his “forms” (as they are called) right and passing to the next belt level.
Her anxiety was well-placed: We pay good money for karate; he needs to study and do well!
However, we needed to realize that even if he did not get everything right, he still benefitted from the program. Failure is just as important a lesson as is success.
Failure is just as important a lesson as is success.
In fact, without failure, it is difficult for us to grow and learn from our mistakes.
I learned this lesson when I did my research and field tests for my doctorate, of which failure is an inherent part. Whenever I outlined my failures in my dissertation, I was proud to contribute to my field and expose other researchers to my mistakes, lest others be doomed to repeat them.
Nevertheless, failure is something people frown upon these days. Failed politicians refuse to apologize; failed CEOs wiggle their way out of responsibility for bad choices or moral scruples; our young people who fail time and again find adversity an impossible hindrance and give up all too easily.
It was President John F. Kennedy who once said that, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
What would it be like if Jesus’ disciples saw failure as a roadblock to learning and following Jesus? Peter, the greatest of all failures among Jesus’ followers, became the bedrock of the church precisely because of the lessons he learned.
He tried to walk on water to greet Jesus only to doubt and sink (Matthew 14:22-33). Yet, it was Peter who took the step out of the boat in the first place, a courageous act that set him apart from the other disciples.
When Jesus foretold his trial and death, Peter rebuked him and told him that surely God’s plan was not for Jesus to end up on a cross (what Peter perceived as failure!). Ironically, Peter failed to understand Christ’s mission, and Jesus called Peter satan, or “adversary,” who acted against the greater purposes of God (Matthew 16:21-23).
Who can forget about Peter’s failure to claim Jesus as his master when Jesus did eventually go to the cross? On the night Jesus was tried for treason against the state, Peter denied him not once but thrice (John 18:15-27).
When the cock crowed, Peter awakened to his mistake and deeply regretted his decision. He went on to lead the disciples and the early church, and it was Peter’s sermon at Pentecost that inspired thousands of people to convert to follow Christ (Acts 2-3).
For the Christian committed to growing in Christ, failure is a part of the equation in one’s spiritual journey, not something to avoid. And not every failure is tantamount to sin.
Failure is just another resource in our spiritual walk that moves us forward, upward, and onward towards the heart of God.
As we journey with Christ, let us–like Peter–recognize that when we doubt, deny Christ, or mistake God’s mission in life, we are to repent and mature, not double-down in our ignorance and deny that we made a mistake, for that is the greatest failure of them all.