I remember the day I stood at the far end of the gym by the weight racks and heard our Crossfit trainer say, “Today, we’re going to learn how to fail.”
Excuse me?! I thought, What do you mean, “Learn to fail?” I don’t like failure, and now we’re going to practice the motion?! That’s embarrassing! Everyone will see it! I don’t get it.
The truth is we all fail at one time or another. I’ve had many “big, ugly, can’t hide it, out-there-for-everyone-to-see failures.” I’d like to say I’ve learned from my successes, but the truth is I’ve learned more from my failures. In falling short, I’ve learned plenty, both in the gym and out of it. Trying a new thing means, at some point, we will fail at something.
Learning to fail, and fail well, is vital. Here are some tips I’ve learned that help me to ‘successfully fail’.
1. Choose to train
The day I signed up to become a Crossfit member, I chose to get stronger. I chose to train. Joining didn’t depend on my strength; they accepted me in spite of my weakness. Being a gym member didn’t automatically make me strong. I had to show up. I had to train and work hard, sometimes shedding blood, sweat, and tears.
Similarly spiritual muscles only grow through use, as well
I view accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior as a kind of “spiritual gym membership.” We choose to start a journey to become “Cross”-fit. Becoming a member and remaining a member of God’s family isn’t based on our ability. It is through Christ alone.
2. Welcome resistance
Strengthening our physical bodies requires lifting more weight, doing more reps, experiencing greater resistance. But how can we know the weight we’re capable of handling if we stick to the amount we lifted on day one?
Truly, experiencing greater resistance through adversity in life strengthens our faith in Christ and our relationship with Him. We push back against the weight of difficulty with God’s Word, putting to work what we’ve learned. Resistance is uncomfortable but chisels out beautiful spiritual muscles. Do we avoid resistance? Don’t be afraid of it; push back!
3. There will be Benchmark Days
During training, benchmark days will come. They provide an opportunity to repeat movements we’ve tried before to see how our strength has increased; they are an opportunity to try again. On benchmark days, we establish max effort and realize our point of failure.
Have you been pushed to the max, even to the point of failure? Sometimes God allows this because He wants us to see where we are weak, where we need Him and His strength, and where our form needs improvement. These are areas where He wants to do a work in our hearts. Be aware of and prepare for benchmark days! Know He allows them for our good.
4. Give Max Effort
Max effort is 100% of our ability, a measure of the best we can do that day. Giving 100%, by definition, means bumping up against our inability – 101% is more than we can handle, our point of failure; the two are always touching. To shy away from establishing max effort evidences fear of failure. When we fail at the gym, people see it. They may see us fail in life, too.
“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we’re afraid, it’s for fear of punishment, and this shows that we haven’t fully experienced his perfect love” (1 John 4:18, NLT).
We can’t be afraid to give our all for God, even knowing we may cross over from 100% ability into inability. We find assurance in His love, certain we will not “lose our membership” if we try to lift too much and drop the bar. Don’t shrink back with fear of man or what people think, which ensnares. Live in His love, free to give max effort.
5. Don’t stop at success
Establishing max effort is fun. We see our hard work and dedication transformed into strength. We successfully handle more than we could before. How sad if we conclude, “I’ve reached this new ability. I’ve grown; I’m finished.”
Have we gotten comfortable with yesterday’s success? Let’s keep training, keep going! There’s always more to do. God is looking for able workers for His harvest.
6. Fail well
Our Crossfit trainer said, “Today, we’re going to learn how to fail.”
What does that mean? It means what to do with that heavy bar when you can’t complete the movement, what to do when you push beyond and can’t move that weight alone. It’s successful release.
Successful release with Christ means supplication, “This is too much for me, God! I need Your help!” And confession, “I tried; I blew it. I dropped the bar and can’t get it back on the rack.” It is also a choice. God is the ultimate spotter; He will step in when our ability fails and will help when we call. He is able to get things back where they need to be, to clean up our messes, to give us another chance to try again. He is The Redeemer.
That day, our trainer helped us learn to fail with no weight on the bar so when the weight was too heavy, we could successfully release it, avoiding injury and unnecessary pain. Watch for the ways that God allows you to “fail small.” He’s preparing you, as any good parent does, to successfully handle big weight later, to release, and fail well.
7. Be grateful
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4, NIV).
“Give thanks in all circumstances; this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians. 5:18, NIV).
It’s hard to thank God for difficulties in life, until we see them with heavenly perspective. Has failure traumatized or paralyzed you to the point you never want to try again? “We know that in all things God works good for those who love him, who’ve been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, NIV). He is able to redeem our failures, using them to grow us up in Christ to maturity. Gratefulness releases fear’s death grip on our gifts.
8. True failure
In practicing one particularly difficult weight movement, Overhead Squat, I fail repeatedly, ending up on my rear more times than I can count. I recently joked to another gym-goer, sitting behind the bar on my sore tush, “I’ve spent so much time down here this evening. I might as well stay here. I fail a lot!” To which he immediately corrected, “No, the ones who’ve failed are the ones at home with their butts on the couch!” He’s right. True failure is not even trying. Checking out. Burying our talents. Not trusting God with our 101% moments, or the 101% moments of others who have dropped the bar on us.
I may fail at Overhead Squat, but I’m still going to the gym. I will try again and again. When we remember our past “failures,” we can say, “Better a sore tush than a soft one!”
9. Never compare
When going for max effort at the gym, do we record another member’s weight as our benchmark? No, we record our own.
Our success in weight-lifting and walking out our Christian lives should never be measured against another person’s; nor should our failures. Both are ours alone to account for. Our only response should be to encourage one another in success and offer grace when others drop the bar. Only Jesus, the Perfect One, gets to judge and pass out trophies.
10. Glorify God
Our every success ultimately demonstrates the love of God. Because of His love, we have ability. Because of His love, He accomplishes what we can’t. By His love, our failures are covered and redeemed. When failure happens, by grace, we shake off all condemnation. May we move from magnifying our shortcomings to magnifying the Lord.
God’s grace is sufficient. His power works best in weakness. Therefore, we can gladly boast about our weaknesses, that the power of Christ can work through us. We can take pleasure in weaknesses and troubles that we suffer for Christ, for when we’re weak, then we’re strong (2 Cor. 12:9-10, my paraphrase).
Though I fail in the gym and in life, I’m encouraged. I hope you are too, knowing we are surrounded by a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith. Let’s train hard to run with endurance the race God set before us… keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Let’s take a new grip with our tired hands and strengthen our weak knees, marking out a straight path for our feet so that we will not fall but become strong (Hebrews 12: 1-3, 12-13 my paraphrase).
May we all fail well.