For those of you who have followed my blog for a long time (I started blogging in April of 2011), you may remember that for several years I chose one word each year to be my special word to think about throughout the whole year. In 2014, I chose the word JOY as my special word. During that year I developed the practice of finding joyful moments in every single day. Regardless of how challenging a day was, I managed to find joyful moments in it. The next year I chose the word GRATITUDE, and went to bed every night thinking back over the day and listing everything I was particularly grateful for that day. The following years my special words were KINDNESS, HOPE, PEACE, LOVE, and WISDOM. Last year I stopped the process, because no special word popped into my mind for 2021. Maybe I’ll go back to the practice again some day.
Meanwhile, I decided to re-subscribe to The Monastic Way, a monthly pamphlet of short daily devotions written by Joan Chittister, one of my favorite authors. This year she has chosen to ponder the words of great writers, focusing on a different word each month.
FAILURE is the word Chittister chose to ponder for the month of April. Personally, I was pretty skeptical that pondering the word FAILURE would be very inspiring, but I downloaded and printed out the 4 pages of daily paragraphs on FAILURE.
The first reading, intended to be read on April 1, gave me hope that thinking about FAILURE for a month might really turn out to be inspiring, after all.
To fail is to have the opportunity to begin again, wiser this time.
Each day, the reading prompted me to think about failure in a new way. On April 12, I read:
Never fear failure. There are some things in life – perseverance, faith, humility – that only failure can teach.
A few days later, it was time to think about my failures in relationship to other people:
Failure is the lesson that teaches me that I am not self-sufficient. It gives me the opportunity to recognize the gifts of others and depend on them.
On Monday, April 18, I was prompted to think about the role of failure in my life.
The function of failure is to stretch me beyond what is expected to what is possible. “When we give ourselves permission to fail,” Eloise Ristad points out, “we at the same time give ourselves permission to excel.”
Chittister continued along the same line of thought on Wednesday, April 20:
When we finally begin to be comfortable with failure we are free to try everything in life. We become explorers of the multiple paths to happiness we may not have found if we had not failed in so many areas.
By the end of the month, Chittister had taught me to reach these conclusions about FAILURE:
We would be happier people if we took the words “failure” and “mistake” out of our vocabularies and said instead, “what I did must have been for something. I’m just not sure what it is yet.
When what we planned does not happen, it is time to plan something else. And that is the gift of failure…
So, with a new perspective on the word FAILURE, I thought about what some of my best failures in life have been. One of my very best failures happened in February of 1999. After working for TDS Computing Services in Madison, WI for six years, I was becoming more and more unhappy with my job. I started looking for another job, and I was expecting a job offer from the Wisconsin DNR. Then something happened at TDS that made me so unhappy (I no longer remember what it was), that I immediately turned in my resignation with a 2-week notice. It felt good to be away from the position I was beginning to hate. But then I failed to get a job offer from the Wisconsin DNR, or any of the other places where I had applied for work. I failed at getting another job.
But looking back, that failure provided me the opportunity to focus on building home-based businesses for Mim and me: a bed and breakfast, a business consulting/project management practice, assisted living, a retreat center, writing a blog and five books, and playing the organ and piano at several different churches.
Failing to get a new job after quitting my job at TDS wasn’t the only FAILURE in my life, but it certainly opened up my life to lots of other wonderful opportunities. Joan Chittister’s focus on FAILURE for the month of April prompted me to think back on some of my failures, and see them from a new perspective.
Maybe this year I’ll have one special word each month instead of one special word for the whole year.
PASSION is the word Joan Chittister is focusing on for the month of May. She quotes Denis Diderot before she begins her daily reflections, “Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things.” Here’s a link for a free online subscription to “The Monastic Way.”