If you’ve ever done any weightlifting, you’ve likely heard the phrase, “Failure is your friend!” The first time I encountered that phrase several years ago in the context of the group strength class I was teaching, I didn’t have a lot of weight training experience from which to make sense of it. My frame of reference in regards to failure was purely that of a non-lifter, someone who was raised to complete tasks as perfectly as possible, to double check for accuracy always, and to avoid extreme risks to ensure a better chance of success and safety; basically to function within a certain small comfort zone. In weightlifting, failure is often the goal; this is where muscle growth happens. When you train hypertrophy style, you want to work so hard that your muscles are no longer able to lift what you’re asking them to move. When you train strength, getting that last rep of your working set at really heavy weight is almost always in question. Oddly, in a sense, reaching the point of failure sort of equates to success.
When I first started training the big lifts, Craig helped me. He coached me on form and he helped me determine my one rep max, the maximum weight I could move in any of my lifts, determined by the point just before which I failed. I started working on my own at about 80% of my 1RM, but by the time my working sets got heavy I realized that I was not in the right environment to fail. I was working without a spotter, the squat rack I was using did not have “infinity safety spotter arms” on which I could drop the bar if I couldn’t get back up, and the floor underneath me was not rubberized (not optimal if you’re going to drop the bar off your back). The day my working set of squats was just 5# below my previous max weight and my fourth rep felt like it was in question, I didn’t even attempt my fifth rep because I knew I didn’t have a safety system in place for a fail.
This is pretty much the way things work outside of the weightroom too, and this was the subject of one of Pastor Earl’s recent sermons. Often we believe that success is paramount and that failure matters in an “end of the world” kind of way; we attempt to achieve and expect perfection from ourselves. We live within a certain small comfort zone, and while the size of that comfort zone might be different for different people, we often function within the parameters of our perceived areas of success. Pastor Earl challenged us, “What would you do, what would you attempt, what would you dare in your life if you believed that failure didn’t matter? That’s the heart of faith.”
That’s a worthwhile question, so he gave us gave us time to wrestle with it, to talk to our neighbor about it, and then he gave us some of his own examples. He also reminded us that answering this question with our lives was totally doable, because we have a safety system:
“I ask the question, because failure doesn’t matter. You are a precious child of God. You are a blessing in your family, in your work place, in your activities, and in the lives of all you meet. You are called to encounter the children of God wherever you are and offer the blessing of who God has made you to be. God has your back. We have your back. Failure doesn’t change that one little bit. You’ve been given the kingdom. You are a stranger and foreigner here because you have the freedom to live as a blessed, forgiven, child of God … a citizen of the kingdom of God where the rules are different. All of this is called faith.”
We can risk failure because ultimately failure as defined by the usual rules doesn’t matter. Failure does not define us as such; we have already been identified as blessed children of God, loved and forgiven. With this in mind, failure instead becomes our opportunity for growth, a chance to develop strength, a demonstration of faith. Imagine how much bigger our comfort zones would be if we consistently remembered that God has our backs; he is our spotter, our “infinity safety spotter arms”.