When All Else Fails

I fail. We fail. It’s just how things are. It is not a conspiracy or the judgment of God or a universe arrayed against us – we simply fall short.

At times falling short is nothing less than embarrassing. This is especially so if we have raised our own expectations as well as the expectations of others. I do not measure up to my own expectations much less to those of others.

Falling short, however, is not the definition of my life or the meaning of my existence – at least I have not so learned it in Christ. My failure is not the bottom line of the universe – surprisingly the universe does not turn on the success of my personal journey. I am important to God – but that is sheer grace and an undeserved gift.

St. Paul said that he would “boast in his weakness” because in his weakness the strength of Christ was made complete. That, I would venture to observe, is not very American of him. In our culture, we glory in our strengths and say of our nation that “it is the best” or the “greatest” or other various superlatives.

Of course, it’s not really true. We can be grateful for what we have without insisting on superlatives. We can love what has been given to us without despising what someone else loves.

I cannot begin to share the depths of my own failure, nor would this venue be a proper place for such sharing. Thank God, there is Confession in the Church. But it is important for me, and for any of us, to remember what we are and what we are not. It is important to remember the gift of Christ, as well as why the gift is necessary in the first place.

When all else fails, Christ never fails. He is our sufficiency.

21 Responses to “When All Else Fails”

  1. pastor chad Says:

    Ah, how great are the depths of our riches in Christ. What an amazing God we serve.

  2. Bruce Says:

    A great reminder to all of us, especially during this heated political season.

  3. It is Just How Things Are | Bruce Droppings Says:

    […] Father Stephen writes: I fail. We fail. It’s just how things are. It is not a conspiracy or the judgment of God or a universe arrayed against us – we simply fall short. […]

  4. Raphael Says:

    Who would believe us, tell me who, when we tell the world what we have seen and heard?

  5. graceMark Says:

    Thank you. This was a comforting post to read.

  6. Ian Says:

    Thank you Father; as graceMark wrote, comforting indeed.

  7. BV Says:

    a good post, as always.

    but i must say…LOL, the picture cracks me up!🙂

  8. Raphael Says:

    I love the way his ears are pointing backwards.

  9. Lucias Says:

    Thanks for the reminder of this. I am in need of such reminders often.

    And no matter how many times I’ve seen that picture I always laugh. Then I feel sorry for that poor donkey. LOL.

  10. Dean Arnold Says:

    “In our culture, we glory in our strengths and say of our nation that “it is the best” or the “greatest” or other various superlatives.”

    Interesting. You mean other cultures don’t talk that way? What kinds of words do they use?

  11. fatherstephen Says:

    Similar, no doubt, but our rhetoric carries over into American theology. BTW, in honor of my city of Oak Ridge, the donkey photo shows that a little physics is sometimes helpful.

  12. November In My Soul Says:

    “We can love what has been given to us without despising what someone else loves.”

    I think this ties into our fear of things different, things we might not fully understand. Far easier to hate what we don’t undersatnd and thus see as inferior and worthy only of scorn than to take the time to be fair and balanced, to love our neighbor as ourself.

    “I cannot begin to share the depths of my own failure, nor would this venue be a proper place for such sharing. Thank God, there is Confession in the Church. But it is important for me, and for any of us, to remember what we are and what we are not. It is important to remember the gift of Christ, as well as why the gift is necessary in the first place.

    When all else fails, Christ never fails. He is our sufficiency.”

    I have found that at times, for me, sharing the depths of my failure to be an opportunity to learn and grow and to begin the quest for trust. Only through looking at myself honestly and without blinders am I able to change and to grow in positive ways. This process also helps me to remember what I am and what I am not.

  13. Ioannis Freeman Says:

    Oh, boy, is this a fun topic! (Said with serious intent.) Vulnerable people are very likeable people, because we feel like there is something like them in us and like us in them. For example, when the media referred to Princess Diana as the “People’s Princess,” and the world was her stage not only in life but also in mourning her untimely death, the greatest lesson she taught was the grace of honesty. [I am not saying that she was always honest. I am describing an example of a projected interpretation based upon her vulnerable life events.] A mass projection of grief came from deep within a collective appreciation for her humanitarian spirit, which many, if not most people, viewed as authentic.

    At my desk is a photograph of the earliest known mural icon of the Theotokos with Christ, together with the Prophet Balaam, in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome (ca. 220 AD).

    Coupling vulnerability with authenticity as I described Diana, the Princess of Wales, led my attention briefly again to this photograph. I notice that the Theotokos is depicted as exerting one-pointed attention in the icon. The prophet Balaam makes a gesture, but her attention is entirely on Christ. As I ponder the Blessed Theotokos gazing upon this precious gift of divine-human life who is her Lord and ours, I am reminded of the apocryphal narratives that couple the Theotokos with the Holy of Holies during her nine-year tenure in the Temple. The Mother of God holds in her arms the very Person of shekinah, the very God our Christ, and I want to enter her experience of consolation. She is tender and vulnerable, yet also vastly resilient and prepared for the road ahead.

    Come what may, Christ is among us!

  14. Robert Says:

    “tender and vulnerable” – the prerequisites to communion, to life itself!

  15. Benjamin Says:

    I must decrease so that he may increase.

  16. …read MORE and learn more… « Community of the Risen Says:

    […] Father Stephen talks about insisting without superlatives. […]

  17. ochlophobist Says:

    It occurs to me that a comment pertaining to Welsh nationalist sentiments does not really belong in this thread, but, as a Welsh blooded avid reader of this blog I cannot resist:

    The last person who could, without question, be titled the “Princess of Wales” was Gwenllian ferch Llywelyn (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwenllian_ferch_Llywelyn).

    Even today, among Welsh peoples in Welsh speaking northern Wales, and in those places of Welsh emigration, such as the Welsh communities of south-eastern Ohio (where I grew up) and Patagonia, the use of the terms prince and princess of Wales applied to the House of Windsor is followed by a chuckle.

    Sorry for the tasteless Welsh propaganda.

  18. fatherstephen Says:

    We had a Welshman on the pilgrimage with us to the Holy Land. But his propaganda was quite tasteful.

  19. Karen C Says:

    Dear Father, bless! I have been struck by accounts of Fathers of the Church, who in their humility and compassion were known to sometimes confess failings of which they were not even truly guilty in order to compassionately communicate grace to a broken penitent or spiritual child–to truly enable such a one to appropriate the forgiveness of God. I am always encouraged and blessed by godly people, who yet can admit (in more than an abstract way) the fact that they fail, and who even have the grace to do so in the moment where it is occurring or soon after. This kind of immediacy requires a humility that is sometimes difficult to find. In a paradoxical way, it can be those who are most anxious to please God, who are the least able to face it when they fail Him, and thus who become the greatest hypocrites and stumbling blocks to others because of their inability to accept their own need for grace. It seems to me that this is sometimes a particular temptation for those most diligent and successful in application of certain external spiritual disciplines (fasting, almsgiving, etc.).

    Related to this, one of the most helpful messages about parenting I heard from a former pastor was that as Christian parents, we will inevitably at times fail our children, but being able to say “I’m sorry” and admit these failures to our kids will go a long way to healing the damage that we have done to the relationship. As one who frequently fails, I found that very comforting, and I have to make use of that advice on a regular basis, My children have rewarded me with a kind of openness and trust that humbles me greatly and challenges me everyday to become a better mom.

  20. fatherstephen Says:

    I have long thought that doing prostrations and asking forgiveness (as on Forgiveness Sunday) is among the best things we can do in our homes on a very frequent basis. I need forgiveness very frequently and do not ask for it enough.

  21. Karen C Says:

    I, too, do not ask forgiveness nearly as frequently as I should! One of the things I love about the Orthodox Liturgy is that the Priest regularly asks forgiveness of the people and that there is such a thing as a Forgiveness Sunday in the Church year. My Priest gave a very insightful homily last Forgiveness Sunday talking about why the response to the plea for forgiveness is not (or not merely) “I forgive,” but “God forgives.” He also stated that on Forgiveness Sunday there will be many of whom we ask forgiveness, yet have not consciously offended and who will ask forgiveness of us when we have not been offended. In such an instance, we can still meaningfully ask forgiveness for the poverty of our love. Such liturgical acts, when taken to heart and mindfully practiced, are powerful conveyers of the grace and peace of Christ.

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