April 8, 2005

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

The fine line between failure and success

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up,” wrote Thomas Edison (1847-1931), the famous American inventor who was awarded 1,368 separate and distinct patents during his lifetime. Obviously, Edison was no quitter. How often are we?

“I give up!” we quickly say when frustrated about a project not going our way—or when exasperated with a friend or family member who has tested our good nature or patience once too often—or when we just plain know we cannot move forward any longer, no matter what the situation is.

Along life’s ups-and-downs path, we have challenges we choose to ignore or quit for logical or practical reasons. For instance, as much as I would like to participate in a charity marathon or walk—or drive at night, I know because of physical reasons that I cannot. I would like to write a book of fiction, but know that non-fiction prose and poetry are more my forte. However, I might become stronger or change my mindset enough to eventually do the above.

Look at incapacitated athletes who experience extraordinary odds against participating in sports again, but actually do. Almost everyone knows someone who has accomplished something special against all odds, albeit physical or mental (or both)—in small and in formidable ways.

Sometimes it takes the failures to put us on the path toward success.

Publications, television and other media consistently report pick-myself-up-by-the-bootstrap stories. Aren’t we always amazed and edified? Aren’t we inspired and encouraged? Failures, no matter what kind, can provide the impetus to do ordinary and extraordinary things ­better.

We give up for lack of persistence, disbelief in our talents or capabilities, and the inability to see the whole picture, which is what God sees. Sometimes we look too much at our faults instead of looking for our strengths.

Strengths can be hidden until we analyze the reasons for defeat. In that process, we learn how to proceed. There are even “failure analysis experts” to help us. I’ve never approached one, but I do rely on the wisdom of family, friends or spiritual advisers for opinions, advice and support. This offers fresh perspectives when I feel that I’ve failed.

Most important, of course, are prayer and the Mass, which nourish me when trying to relinquish fear and move forward.

I especially like what Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta said in Life in the Spirit: “Failure is nothing but a kiss from Jesus.”

Which reminds me of Protestant minister Robert H. Schuller’s words: “Failure doesn’t mean God has abandoned you, but it does mean God has a better idea!”

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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