M.’s heart picked up its pace as her eyes took in the return address. Would this letter contain news to celebrate? It was her birthday—her fortieth. What could be more perfect than to receive the announcement she longed to read? M. tore open the envelope.
“Thank you for your recent manuscript submission. Regretfully
it does not coincide with our current publishing objectives…”
This was not the first rejection letter M. had received. In spite of early triumphs as an author, she had not written a successful book in a decade. This letter, on this day, brought tears to her eyes, and M. considered giving up.
“But I’m a writer,” she wrote in her journal. “That’s who I am, even if I’m never published again.”
M. began work on another book only to have it rejected nearly thirty times. Finally it sold. The book? A Wrinkle in Time, a beloved book of millions. And for it, Madeleine L’Engle was awarded the Newbery Medal for Children’s Literature in 1962 (1).
Surely Mrs. L’Engle would be among those to tell us: Failure is a reality of everyone’s life. Even the most successful people have failed at one time or another.
But when we’re drowning in the despair of failure, we tend to forget its universality.
We also forget:
1. God always makes good use of failure—to develop maturity, wisdom, and humility.
Think of Peter, who denied Jesus three times as his Messiah was being interrogated by the chief priests and Sanhedrin (Matthew 26). Yet Peter became the rock on which Christ built his church (Matthew 16:18).
2. Our failures may well be part of God’s bigger purpose.
General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate army during the Civil War, wrote this in 1869:
(“We failed, but in the good providence of God
apparent failure often proves a blessing.”)
Even out of the horrific devastation of that war, God did bring blessing. Among them: The Red Cross was founded, a number of hospitals were established, and in the decades that followed, America rose from the ashes stronger than ever.
3, The lack of results does not necessarily indicate failure.
‘Ever hear of Edward Kimball? I hadn’t—until recently. Edward once introduced a young shoe salesman to Jesus. That salesman grew in faith by leaps and bounds, and strongly desired that others know the One who changed his life so dramatically. The salsman’s name: Dwight L. Moody—evangelist extraordinaire and founder of Moody Bible Institute.
By comparison to Moody’s stellar accomplishments and resulting fame within the Christian community, Mr. Kimball seems a nobody. But the ripple effect that still reaches around the world today through Moody (2) can be traced back to Kimball.
Most of us will never know the ripple effect emanating from our lives until we reach heaven. It’s probably just as well. What we don’t know can’t go to our heads.
4. True success is not financial security, great respect from throngs of people, or high rank in the public arena. “True success is growing intimacy with God” (3).
My eyes are often distracted by the wrong prize.
(“Our greatest fear should not be of failure
but of succeeding at something
that doesn’t really matter.”
–D. L. Moody)
Failure is actually a blessing. God uses it to:
- a) foster spiritual growth,
- b) accomplish his purpose,
- c) guide us into greater intimacy with him, and
- d) redirect our focus.
Oh, God, help me to embrace failure and the blessed lessons it brings!
(1) Information about Madeleine L’Engle from http://www.neh.gov.
(2) Thousands of graduates from Moody Bible Institute have served God as pastors, missionaries, and more over the 130 years since its founding in 1886. Millions more have been impacted by Moody Radio and Moody Publishing.
(3) J. I. Packer, Knowing God, 1973, p. 314.