"Often it is the dark forest that makes us speak about the open field. Frequently prison makes us think about freedom, hunger helps us to appreciate food, and war gives us words for peace. Not seldom are our visions of the future born out of the sufferings of the present and our hope for others out of our own despair. Only few 'happy endings' make us happy, but often someone's careful and honest articulation of the ambiguities, uncertainties and painful conditions of life gives us new hope. The paradox is indeed that new life is born out of the pains of the old," -Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out.
It's always dangerous to pick up a Henri Nouwen book. I usually only read a few pages at a time because I become lost in thought reading and re-reading a particular sentence or paragraph. Today is a slow day at work, so I took the luxury of bringing a book to read during my lunch break...and this quote drew me into a contemplative state of mind. My brother is currently doing his first training in actual flying (he's in the Air Force and is planning on starting pilot school in the fall). This month he is in Colorado learning to fly small single engine planes. He has been dreaming about this moment for a long time...but found to his dismay that on his first trip into the sky, he was desperately motion sick. He had been studying around the clock for days, trying to memorize the millions of tiny details that are crucial to safely piloting a plane. But when motion sickness takes over, coherent thought tends to flee the mind. So it was with great discouragement that he walked away from his first flying experience, worrying that maybe this wasn't his calling, that maybe he would wash out, that maybe the thing he has longed for will not happen. As I tossed and turned that night after hearing about his experience, I realized yet again that he and I have very similar personalities. We like to excel. I am what many would call a type-A perfectionist personality. I know what I'm good at...so I do what I'm good at. If I'm not good at something, you can bet I'll stay away from it. My brother is an incredible man. He's smart, accomplished, successful, top of his class at everything. And now he is in the middle of something that feels impossible...just because his body revolts to the idea of bumping along on a cloud. It seems so unfair. And in the midst of this is a fear of failure. So that's where I come back to my own experience, and Henri Nouwen's profound words. I am terrified of failing. I took the foreign service exam (really hard test to gain entrance into state department type jobs) several years ago and I failed. I hate even reading that sentence. I failed. And I walked away from my foreign service dream. I never re-took the test. I found other things at which I excelled. But now I find myself in Kuwait. It is not what I thought it would be. It's not easy, it's not often fun, and I certainly don't feel like I'm a star at life over here. In many ways, it feels like failure...did I misinterpret God's calling to this place? Am I just not trying hard enough? Am I more fragile than I thought? Perhaps this is my own personal dark night of the soul. But it is here that I add to Henri Nouwen's words...often it is the darkness that makes us speak of the light. Not seldom is it oppression and injustice that makes us speak of freedom. Sometimes it is failure that leads us to re-evaluate our definition of success. I don't necessarily think that there are happy endings in life, but there is joy in the journey even if we are only stumbling along. It is certain that my own vision of the future is profoundly marked by the sufferings of the present and the despair that sinks its claws into this place. Maybe failure shouldn't be such a dirty word in my vocabulary. Maybe it is a beautiful thing. Maybe, just maybe, it's an opportunity to develop a whole new language...one in which I find the words to bring my failure to the One who never failed, to express my need for One who is far greater than my present circumstances, to rejoice in the darkness as I wait with bated breath for that first ray of light. Maybe failure is sweet in its own odd way.