How to Find Hope in Your Failure


hope in failure

Writers often receive these dreaded things called a rejection slip for a book, a poem, or an article

One of my favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle laments that “Every rejection slip—and you could paper walls with my rejection slips—was like the rejection of me.”  I can relate.  Writers might spend hours weaving the perfect nouns and verbs together to create a word-tapestry only to have an editor return the submission with a polite “not at this time” phrase.

When failure knocks me down, what motivates me to brush it off and get back in the game?

How can my failures be a benefit?

Sure, success is pleasant, but it is not what makes me write. We all experience the misery of failures in some form.  In fact, the Harvard Business Review, probably a place where people are not accustomed to failure, makes the argument that failures can be useful.

Maybe for you, failure comes in the form of an emotionally bankrupt day in parenting or homeschooling.  Perhaps a nearly collapsed marriage grips you so tightly that you can’t catch your breath or a weight loss program that you’ve tried again and again with little or no success.

After experiencing frequent failure in my craft (I chuckle and joke that failure in writing is my new hobby), I realize that failure does not define me; it refines me.failure does not define me; it refines me. Click To Tweet

Regardless of the number of times failure greets me in my “inbox,” it is not up to me to throw in the towel.

Even without the reward of ever seeing my name on the jacket of a book, I will continue to spin words into stories and articles because it is one of my earthly commissions.

Face Off with the Professor

In my freshman year of college, I experienced an epic failure in my English 302 course taught by a professor who always reminded the class of his ivy league days.  Every Tuesday and Thursday for 90 minutes he lectured on Einstein’s theory of relativity and its impact on literature.  Listening to Professor Ivy League scrape his nails across the chalkboard would have been more tolerable than the topic of his lecture.

I failed the first essay— the “F” poised at the top of my paper and a few condescending comments scrawled in the margins with his red-inked Bic pen.

With the essay clutched in my hand,  I visited the professor at his office to discuss my grade.  We sat across from one another in his hallowed room where the works of Chaucer, Wordsworth, Elliot, and others lined the walls like literary trophies listening to him about to shatter my world:

Have you considered another major?” he gently suggested.

The sting of his words stunned me then I reached back to that summer when I was a tenacious ten-year-old and declared myself a writer. I sat motionless in front of Professor Ivy League until I mustered up enough gumption to pull out a handful of raw courage and respectfully yet emphatically responded:

No, never considered anything else.”

Whatever your calling, you will make mammoth mistakes along the way.  Failure is inevitable.

It is in those sinking to the abyss moments that we need to fill our lungs with awe of God who will propel us back to the surface so that we can finish the job he ordained us to do.

That’s what keeps me returning to the keyboard after every rejection slip.

hope in failure

Something about failure intensifies my resolve to endure.

Whenever I receive one of those “slips,” I allow myself about twelve to twenty-four hours of sullenness where I temporarily relinquish my laptop to a shelf in passive protest. Then, in time, I look failure square in the eye and dare it to stop me from doing something that I know deep, deep, deep down is what I am supposed to do.

I say all this because my hope is that in the midst of failure I want you to stand on tip toes to peer beyond the immediate failure and look up to see what God wants to do through you for his glory.

We take our failures personally and sometimes way too seriously.  When we are bruised and battered by failure, we forget that our commission is God-focused not self-focused.

If I keep my focus heavenward, then I am less likely to play the comparison game when I do fail.  When we have a colossal failure as a parent, we start comparing our parenting with the family in the next pew.

Whatever you do, parent, teach, build, paint or write to glorify God.

It’s so easy for me to measure my success or failure by the number of visits to my site or the Almighty Subscriber list. Yes, I want to connect with you as a friend not just as a subscriber.  When I find myself seeing people as mere numbers on a Google grid then I know I am in trouble.

What do you do, my friend, with your failures?

Allow failure to develop humility. Christ cares about our successes as well as our failures. It is during my times of failure that I lean less on my understanding and more on God’s sovereignty.  My failures force me to examine my level of trust in God.  Am I trusting Him in my failures as a parent, a wife, a writer, a friend?

When I fail, I realize my need for complete dependence on Christ even though our culture whispers in our ear that independence is a hallmark achievement. While independence in some areas of my life is commendable, complete dependence on God with everything, including my failures, requires that I trust Him.

So if you find yourself doing a face plant into a box of doughnuts every time you try to eat healthfully, ask yourself are you trying to eat healthfully to glorify God or yourself?

Do I want people to read my writing? Well, yes, what writer doesn’t want their words to glide across the screens of thousands of readers but when that doesn’t happen do I pack up my pencils and quit?  Honestly, I’ve considered the idea many times. Then, I am reminded, again, why I do what I do: for his glory, not mine.

Questions to consider:

  • How do you treat failure?
  • What do you do when you fail?
  • What do you consider a failure?
  • Do you keep track of your failures?

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17 Comments

  1. Belema Ronabere on August 9, 2017 at 11:48 am

    The writer’s dilemma. I was just considering quitting writing. I read a few articles earlier and it’s almost as if English is not my first language. When I saw ‘failure’, I was really excited. Little did I know, it was just a guise to prevent me from quitting. Thank you for this tone of voice you have. It’s very calming.

    • Denise Sultenfuss on August 9, 2017 at 1:09 pm

      Thanks for taking the time to share your heart. I’ve considered quitting so many times, but it is not an option. Keep going Krista!

  2. Lesley on August 9, 2017 at 2:50 pm

    I’m glad I found your post- I’ve been feeling quite discouraged about writing over the last month or so and it encourages me to keep going. Failure is not easy but it definitely helps to keep our focus on God and doing what we do for him, rather than just for the results. Visiting from Coffee For Your Heart.

    • Denise Sultenfuss on August 9, 2017 at 2:55 pm

      I know it is so easy to get discouraged Lesley, trust me I know! Press on and get your message out in spite of your failures (think of the apostle Paul and Peter and the others who valiantly did kingdom work.

  3. Dani | Free Indeed on August 9, 2017 at 5:18 pm

    So much wisdom here! This caught my eye: “We take our failures personally and sometimes way too seriously. When we are bruised and battered by failure, we forget that our commission is God-focused not self-focused.” Very true! Before Christ I was such a perfectionist, and sometimes the old habits die hard. I can fall into that mindset if my heart isn’t on the Word. I’m so thankful I now have a purpose higher than myself and a God who does all things for good – even using failure to do so. Keep on writing, my friend!

    • Denise Sultenfuss on August 10, 2017 at 6:00 am

      Dani, thanks for the encouraging words. Your point about “old habits die hard” hits home with me. I, too, am a recovering perfectionist, my friend. So you are in good company.

  4. Tiffany on August 10, 2017 at 7:07 am

    knowing rejection is a part of it is a big reason I have not sent a proposal for my Bible Study. I need to just do it… remembering failure does not define me. Thanks for that.

    • Denise Sultenfuss on August 10, 2017 at 7:28 am

      Go ahead and send that proposal in and if it bounces back with comments, then, consider them, and get back in the game. You have a message Tiffany so don’t let fear of failure smolder it. Blessings, Denise

  5. Julia on August 10, 2017 at 7:35 am

    I used to let failure overwhelm my entire life. I was so difficult to be around. I even thought if I wasn’t friends with everyone, then I was a failure. If I wasn’t invited to everything, failure. If people didn’t read my posts, failure. EVERYTHING I did I looked at as either being a failure or a success. Thank the Lord, I have changed. I now look at failure as a step toward my next success. Of course, the devil loves to stick his ugly head in and try to bring me down. That’s when I spend a little more time with God, a little more time reading wonderful devotions like yours and a little more time with wonderful friends who know how to slap me back to where I need to be. The presence of God always pushes the devil away.

    • Denise Sultenfuss on August 11, 2017 at 12:07 pm

      Julia, thank you for sharing your heart that is just what I want this blog to be about, a safe place to share about holy and healthy living. Stay in touch. Your words are appreciated.

  6. Robin Revis Pyke on August 10, 2017 at 8:00 am

    Thank you for sharing your writing journey! In my journey, I no longer use the term failure, I tell myself, “well that wasn’t very successful.” I view the unsuccessful attempts or the “no thanks” as God protecting me from something that was not meant to be. It’s not always easy to shake it off but I’m getting better at moving on!

  7. Miriam on August 10, 2017 at 8:24 am

    I like the way you have summarized it, ‘Am I doing it for His glory or for my glory?’ And so if I have failed according to human standards, have I failed in the eyes of God? If I have not, then I am not really a failure – just someone being refined.

    • Denise Sultenfuss on August 11, 2017 at 11:17 am

      Thanks for stopping by the blog and sharing your thoughts. I need to remind myself, often, why I do what I do.

  8. Maureen Brown on August 12, 2017 at 7:22 am

    This is good. Failure is not fatal, but that’s hard to remember in the moment. Bravely facing the moment is hard…but leads to better things. Trusting God if definitely the foundation! I also really like your Questions to Ponder. I’m gonna jot those down and dig in!

    • Denise Sultenfuss on August 13, 2017 at 7:22 am

      Hi Maureen, thanks for stopping by the blog. Failure can be fatal if we don’t remember who we are to glorify. Instilling that thought in my mind helps the sting when I fail, and it keeps me focused on kingdom work.

  9. April Knapp on August 15, 2017 at 9:55 am

    I was your neighbor last week on Coffee for Your Heart and I am so glad! I always try to visit my neighbor and I really love this post. I am saving it.

    • Denise Sultenfuss on August 15, 2017 at 11:37 am

      Thanks for visiting neighbor! I am so glad you found the post to be worthy of saving.

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