Risk and Failure
"Fail" has become one of those dirty little four letter words in our vocabulary. I know that through my life, I have often taken the safe road and the easy way because I was too afraid to fail. The first time I remember taking a big risk on something, I was a Senior in High School, 2005. As a true and honest band-o, involved in the marching band, concert band, wind ensemble, the jazz band, and clarinet choir, I spent my days filled with practices and lessons. I sat third or fourth chair my entire band career behind people who were more accomplished than I was, learning and trying, but I never quite felt good enough.
My band director, Mr. B., decided to take me off the soprano clarinet and put me on the Alto and Bass clarinet. There were less runs I had to play, less intricate finger patterns, the notes weren't as high. I excelled at it. The rolling bass lines, the oom-pa-pa of polkas, the relaxed feel of the alto and bass clarinet became my safety zone. I felt good about it because I felt like I was going to make it this way. I was determined that I was going to become a music teacher and mold and shape the lives of young people around me just the way Mr. B. was doing for me. My clarinet teachers encouraged me and helped me learn these two other instruments which took so much more power and breath to make sound good and I just did it. It was safe. It was easy.
My sophomore and junior years of high school I auditioned for the District Band on the alto clarinet. I made it both years. I made it easily. I practiced and tried and grew and challenged myself to be better. But during my senior year, I knew that I was going to have to start practicing the Soprano Clarinet more. That's the instrument that I owned and going to college for music education, I needed to work on my skills on that instrument more than the bass and alto, because I didn't own one, and because no one majors in Bass Clarinet in college.
Here comes the risk: My senior year, I decided I would try out on the Soprano Clarinet for Districts. I had everyone behind me, not cheering me on, but telling me how terribly I would fail. My directors, my friends, the people around me who had been so supportive on the Bass and Alto now told me about all I was risking by not staying in my safety zone. I knew it was a risk. I knew that I had more of a chance of failing. Instead of a 4 out of 6 chance of making it into Districts on the Alto, I was facing a 30 out of 300 odds on the Soprano. The odds were not in my favor. But I did it anyway. I pushed those voices aside and said to myself "sure, I may fail... but it won't be from lack of trying."
I didn't make it into the District Band that year. I missed it by a few spots. Not the middle of the pack, not even failing spectacularly, but just by a few spots. And I was proud. Sure, I shed a few tears of frustration and did the "what-if" game with myself. But I was proud of myself for trying and risking something, knowing that there was no guarantee that I would succeed. Mr. B did the "told you so" dance. My friends did too. But, two people told me how proud they were that I tried something different and stepped out of my comfortable, safety zone, and risked failure. Mr. T, who was the drum section director for the marching band, and my dad. Both of them told me how proud they were and that I had no reason to hang my head in shame but I should hold it up knowing that I had accomplished so much in a few months to try and risk and know that failure wasn't the end of the road. But that I had something to strive for.
I think, a lot of the time, churches find themselves fearing the risk. Like the disciples on the boat watching Jesus walk on water, we find ourselves petrified of moving from the safety of what we have always done and have always known. Peter risked. He got out and took a few steps. But, the moment he got scared, he began to sink. He didn't drown though, he had an encouraging hand holding him up saying "you'll do better next time." That's how so many of our faith journeys are.
I wonder how many churches Christ is looking at saying "get out of the boat...walk to me... my hand is here." Joan S. Gray encourages us to risk and fail, and then try again. Being a sailboat congregation has nothing to do with being perfect all the time. It has nothing to do with being in the safety zone. It has to do with having enough faith to hear the call of the Holy Spirit telling us that there's something out there bigger than what we are currently doing.
One of my favorite things that my 3 year old little girl says when she makes a mistake or drops something is "Oh! Try again!" I want her to know that failures happen and we can pick ourselves up and try again, always.
What is God asking you to risk? And what is it that you're too afraid to try for fear of failure? Have lost sight of knowing that Christ is standing there waiting for us to step forward? That the Spirit is within, around, through, above and below us encouraging us? Where is god asking us to step out of the safety zone and try the next new thing in order to bring Faith, Love and Hope into this world? Sit with these questions and allow the Christ that the world thought they conquered to encourage you to risk.
Check out this TED talk about failure and facing our fears. It's only 6 minutes https://www.ted.com/talks/courtney_johnson_failure_is_necessary/up-next