Ash Wednesday and Embracing Our Failures

I read a blog post this week that talked about the possibility of a reunion between Sammy Sosa and the Chicago Cubs. For those of you who don’t remember Sammy’s time in Chicago, it included some amazing seasons such as his 66 homeruns in 1998 and leading the Cubs to the playoffs twice. But Sosa’s image has become tainted due to a corked bat, an incident in which Sosa left the ballpark during a game, and more recently his link to performance-enhancing drugs in 2009. But there has recently been a lot of talk about forgiving Sosa, forgetting those “bad” incidents, and moving into the future with Sosa back in the fold of the Cubs organization. With this post coming out the day after Ash Wednesday, it has led me to think about what we do with those pesky failures from our past. We are told that when we receive forgiveness through Christ that God remembers our sins no more. But we still remember. So, what are we to do about that? It seems to me that we have three choices.

First, we can ignore our failures. This is perhaps the posture that most of us take on a regular basis. For example, whenever my wife and I argue, she is always the one at fault…from MY perspective. The truth is, of course, different from that, but my perspective is skewed by the fact that I have an amazing ability to ignore my own failures. Jesus understood this tendency in humans amazingly well and spoke of it, saying, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”[1] Ignoring our failures is one of the easiest responses, but it is far from healthy. And when we hold those secrets in, it usually implodes at some point, leaving us with having to respond a different way to those failures.

So, rather than ignoring them, we often choose to hate our failures. When Judas betrayed Jesus, his guilt overwhelmed him. He quickly grew to hate his mistake and, by association, himself. He tried to give the money back, but it not enough. Finally, in desperation, he took his own life. Hating our failures is dangerous business. It leads to depression, drug abuse, and suicide. The phrase “hate the sin, but love the sinner” is one that I hear quite often in Christian circles. I’ve used it myself in the past. But I’m becoming convinced that this phrase is actually entirely unhelpful and, quite possibly, truly harmful. The phrase, which is not in the Bible, actually originated with Ghandi. He wrote, “Hate the sin and not the sinner is a precept which though easy enough to understand is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world.” Rev. A.J. Thomas, in a sermon reflecting on this very phrase, wrote, “Why is it hard to practice? Because our feeble human minds have an impossible time making a distinction between a sin and the person who commits it.”[2] This is true when we judge others for their sins, but it is, I believe, also true with our own sins. Hating our failures is dangerous because it can easily slip into hating ourselves. But there is yet another option.

We can embrace our failures. We can do this communally. The Bible has many great examples of this. The book of Judges is almost entirely devoted to owning Israel’s sordid failures in the pre-monarchy days. Psalm 78 is a list of mistakes that the Hebrew people made throughout the years. And it highlights God’s graciousness to them. This season of Lent that we are currently in is a time dedicated to remembering our greatest failure…crucifying the Son of God. We embrace those failures in order to not repeat them. And we embrace them because they remind us of God’s grace to us. We can also embrace our failures individually for those same reasons. When we own our own crap, our own junk, our own baggage, we are able to move forward and embrace God’s grace as well.

I am an habitual secret keeper when it comes to my failures. I like to ignore them and hope they will just go away. I’ve done this for years, but it is getting harder to hold it all in. Sometimes I feel about to explode. Other times I just feel exhausted from the struggle to push them down beneath the surface. I desire something more for myself. And I desire something more for my kids who are learning how to deal with failures from me. It breaks my heart to see my son trying to keep his failures secret already at the age of 6 1/2. I want him to deal with those things better than I have in my life. But in order for that to happen, I need to learn how to deal with my own failures better. I need to embrace them and fall into the merciful arms of God. I need to stop trying to forget my humanity. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. But the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.” Lord, help me to embrace my failures, for my own sake and for the sake of the generations to come. Amen.

1. Matthew 7:3-5, NRSV


2 thoughts on “Ash Wednesday and Embracing Our Failures

  1. Wow. Lots of good stuff.

    But one thing that popped into my head–and it’s a bit off topic, but inspired by what you wrote about Lent–is this: Don’t put to death the gift that God gives you because it does not look like what you asked for. (What other good gifts are we missing out on because they are not what we had in mind as the answer to our needs?)


    • Melissa, thank you for your comment. It is often so hard for us to look past our own expectations and see that good can exist outside of what WE want. And often times that good is even better than what we asked for if we would only welcome it. Intriguing to think about.


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