Failure on the Faith Journey

I don’t know about you, but I am constantly confronted by my own failure on this journey of faith.  Sometimes it even feels like all of my efforts to holiness end in failure.  Looking back on my life, there are still some vices I have been falling into for decades.

So how do we deal with repeated failure?

Here are some personal reflections and I don’t claim to be a saint.  Believe me, I am not writing this as someone who is an expert at overcoming sin.  I am venal creature who spends more time rolling in the mud than flying with the angels.  So please understand that this is not me giving you my personal secrets to moral success.  But these are things that I have found helpful.

1. Return to Repentance.  

When we fall, we should immediately turn to God for forgiveness, first in prayer and then in the sacrament of Confession.  Christ calls us to Metanoia, which means a complete change of heart.  

When I turn to God and ask forgiveness, I do so with the intention to never commit that sin again.  No matter what my own personal history has been, I must always begin with that firm intention.

2. Use Guilt Appropriately.   

Guilt can be either good or bad.  If it moves us to real repentance and contrition, then it is good.  But if moves us to self-hatred and despair, it is not from God, but from the devil.  

God is not out to get us.  He does not get any satisfaction from us feeling badly.  He wants us to move away from sin and closer to Him.  Remember, guilt is only useful if you understand that you are better than the sin you commit because you are God’s child.

3. Do Not Set Yourself Up For Failure.  

In the Act of Contrition, we pray “I firmly resolve with the help of your grace to sin no more and avoid the near occasions of sin.”  

In the repentance phase, it is important to strategize about the future.  While we are in the right frame of mind, we should think about the situations that led us to those stumblings.  

Most of us, if we are honest, know that our sins only happen because we allow it.  If we know that we are already predisposed to sin, why make it easier to backslide?   

While we accept that failure is a part of the journey, it does not mean that we capitulate before we start.  If you fall, try and identify the situation that led up to that failure and make some adjustments.  Sometimes changing small habits can do wonders.  

We must be clever here.  How often do we use our minds to do something bad?  Remember being a teenager and thinking up all the clever plans you invented to sneak out of the house.  Why don’t we apply that same ingenuity to safeguarding rather than damning our souls?

4. Keep Going and Don’t Stop.  

I remember once I broke a Lenten resolution and turned to God in prayer, asking for mercy.  And then I broke it again a few hours later.  This a bad thing and it speaks to how little I really repented.  But I didn’t stop trying.

 The only way to ever truly fail is to give up.  Even when we feel like we are running in circles, we may be surprised and find that instead of circles, we have actually been in a spiral heading upward.

One of my best friends said something about the faith that I have never forgotten: God is so great because, no matter what, you can always start over.  As long as you have breath you can begin again.

It is so discouraging to keep falling.  But when we stop trying, our soul atrophies.  We become numb to the guilt and less open to God.  As long as sin remains an open wound, the pain of it might still impel us to see the Great Physician.

5. Remember Success Will Not Come From You.  

The great mystery of the moral life is that it takes all of our effort, but none of our effort will ever be enough.  I remember the main character from C.S. Lewis’ novel Till We Have Faces, Oruel, tries to focus all of her willpower on being morally perfect.  And she fails every time.  In fact, it seemed that the more effort she made, the sooner she stumbled.  

Martin Luther ran into this same problem, which is why he concluded that he could never be good and so only faith in Christ could cover his horridness.  

But we Catholics don’t believe that.  We don’t think that Christ will simply cover us.  He will transform us.  

Sometimes I think God allows us to fail, not because he sadistically likes to see us stumble.  But maybe constant failure is the only way we will learn.  Maybe falling down is the only way any of us will fall to our knees. 

Success on the journey of faith must include a complete surrender to Jesus and we must let Him save us.  Then we can honestly say along with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ and yet I live.  And the life that I live now is not my own, but Christ lives within me.  Inasmuch as I live in the flesh, I live in the faith in the Son of God who as loved me and given Himself up for me.” (Gal 2:19-20)

I write this as fellow patient in this hospital for sinners.  I know that this is the medicine, but I am someone who still needs to take regular doses.  

And I will continue to fail.  But I will, by God’s grace, never give up.

Copyright 2015, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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