Failure must be met with renewed effort and desire

Dan Rowlison 
Pastor at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) California

Dan Rowlison Pastor at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) California

There is no area of human behavior more profoundly affected by “attitude” than when attempting to make a significant change. I have been very skeptical of the prophets of “positive thinking.” I did not think that being optimistic or pessimistic made any difference when it came to making permanent changes in one’s lifestyle. I was wrong.

However, the difference between a pessimist and an optimist can only be seen in the second attempt at change. During the initial attempt to change, a pessimist is actually an optimist in that he is optimistic that the attempt will fail. What gives a pessimist his strength is that, in the initial attempt, he is usually right.

Without an understanding of this process of change, we will naturally lean toward pessimism. But with a change in attitude we find a change in opportunity and open the door to understanding the process of change.

As a young couple, my wife and I took our young children camping. We were eager to have them gain a love of nature and outdoor living. We chose a campsite high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado at a place called “Big Meadow”. When we arrived, it was as beautiful as a postcard. The sky was a brilliant blue, the trees a deep green and the lake was crystal clear and mirror smooth. As we began to set up our camp, everything was working according to the instructions; the tents went up, the campfire was gathered and lit, the gear was organized, and everyone was enjoying themselves.

Then the weather changed, from a cloudless sky to steady rain, in ten minutes! We were camping in a “run-off”, where the water gathered to run downhill. The campfire began to smoke and it hovered at eye level. My daughter chose this time to write her name in the damp canvas inside the tent. My two children and my wife slept in the car that night, while I slept in a wet sleeping bag. By morning, in the fog and drizzle, we were ready to admit defeat. We packed quickly and, with visions of a warm shower, headed for the nearest McDonald’s (we needed a happy meal).

A reasonable response to our experience would be to vow never to camp out again, to embrace failure and say, “We can’t camp.” That would be pessimism. But as we drove down from the mountains we discussed our camping experience listing all of the things we could do differently the next time. That’s optimism. We gathered a list of supplies and equipment, for the next excursion, that would help us to cope with poor weather. We consulted experts in camping (Boy Scouts), we spoke with other campers, we took more time and care in preparing for the next trip.

Our next trip was quite pleasant. As our experience increased, so did our aptitude for camping. We tried a varied of different pieces of equipment; some worked and some didn’t. With each success we gained confidence and with each failure we gained knowledge. Eventually, we could camp in snowy weather and sleep in warm tents. It takes optimism to make a second attempt when the first one fails, and you’re going to need optimism.

As we approach significant change, we progress through specific steps. The first step I call the “Dream Stage”. It’s where we recognize that we want to change something and begin to imagine life with the changes made. We recognize that life would be better and so we make a conscious decision to make a major change in our lifestyle. The Bible tells us in the book of Isaiah, chapter 29 that “a hungry man dreams that he is eating, but he awakens, and his hunger remains; … a thirsty man dreams that he is drinking, but he awakens faint, with his thirst unquenched.” This teaches us that Change requires more than a vision or choice; we must act on our decisions. Change requires action; we must do something differently. So all change starts with a dream leading to a decision resulting in a change of actions.

We now begin the second week of January. The dream that you had in 2013 led to a decision in the latter part of December resulting in actions that began on New Year’s Day. Well, the first week is done, how are your holding up?

When it comes to change, the first week is really tough because you’re doing something completely different than before. You’re new at this and you haven’t thought of everything. The temptation to quit is much stronger than you expected and the plan to change much weaker than you thought. Your resolve may already be showing some cracks. So let me introduce you to the next step in making a substantial change.

Say hello to disappointment and discouragement. Unless you are the fortunate one in a billion who will succeed on your first attempt at change, you will fail. What we do with failure is try to learn the lessons of our first attempts. Failure has an effect upon our emotions. The roller-coaster ride now begins. Failure brings disappointment. We thought this would be easier. We thought all we had to do was choose to be different. Repeated disappointment brings discouragement. We begin to wonder if we could do this after all. We run into issues we had never considered before. We find temptation coming from unexpected sources. We’re no longer certain if we know how to accomplish the changes we want. So we react to failure in a predictable way; with determination and dedication.

We decide to “cowboy up” or “man up” (or “cowgirl/woman up” for the ladies). We meet failure with renewed effort and desire. This is the week where those who made New Year’s resolutions must “man up” to the task or fail in the change. You need this week of experience in order to prepare you for what I have to say next week.

I have walked this road many times. Next week be prepared to “go deep”.

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