“Success is a series of glorious defeats.” – Mahatma Gandhi
The deep, wonderful secrets of life, the mysterious presence of the Divine, the joy of cherishing each other, the beauty of nature, the satisfaction of helping out, our journey into Ageless Wisdom–all exist only in our everyday life. There is no bigger ball field on which to find meaning. It’s either right here today, or it’s nowhere.
We seem to be knocking ourselves out in pursuit of a vague image of success, or frenetic modes of recreation, or slave to some career, while the real quality of our everyday life with our families and communities steadily declines. We’re asleep at the wheel, swept up in a fitful agitated dream, and we’re missing some gorgeous scenery that only passes by once.
From the eyes of Spirit, it is never too late to turn our lives around. And once we do, we see that all those very things we considered our worst failures turn out to have been the very building blocks of our compassion and humility.
Many of us consider large parts of our lives to be miserable failures. Great! We’re halfway there. We’re “poor in Spirit.” Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
I love the story of Simon Peter in the New Testament. He was the boldest, the bravest, the most macho of all Jesus’ disciples. When Jesus asked all the apostles, “How do you see me?” Peter was the only one who had the guts to say, “I see you as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Peter was a no-nonsense kind of guy. But he wasn’t humble. He hadn’t failed enough yet. He thought he was tough.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus hinted there would be some trouble. Peter’s response: “Well, even if the others run away, I will never leave you, Lord; I will never betray you.” Jesus said, “Oh, Peter, you’re just like all the rest.” Peter’s reply: No way, Lord. I will not betray you. I would give my life for you!” Jesus said, “Peter, before the cock crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you ever even knew me.” No way. Not Peter. Tough guy. Righteous con. Not a coward. Jesus is wrong this time. I’ll prove it to him.
We all know how it turned out, but have you ever thought about why? And why would Jesus then make that very same coward the Rock of the Church for all time to come? Peter ran away. He lied. He chickened out. He betrayed Him. He failed miserably to be a decent human being. And that is precisely what finally made Peter ready to be the rock of the church.
The one quality Peter lacked was humility. He thought he was better than all the rest, better than you and me. So Peter’s most miserable worldly failure led to his greatest spiritual success. His pride was humbled. That’s what it took.
You and I have failed many times. We have let people down. We have been cowards, cheats, liars. We have hurt ourselves and others. If we allow our failures to open us up instead of shut us down, if we allow them to humble us instead of defeat us, then every lousy thing we have ever done can be turned into the very foundation of our devotion and compassion.
“…I say to you that even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond that which is in each of you, so the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also.” — Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
Do you “free worlders” think you’re better than a convict? Do you convicts think you’re better than a snitch? Do you snitches think you are better than a baby-raper? Then you haven’t failed enough yet. We are not better than anyone. That’s the message. We have no right to look down on anyone, no matter what they have done.
Every human being contains the highest of the high and the lowest of the low. Peter had to find it out the hard way. I hope you and I don’t. Peter must have been so ashamed and humiliated, he probably never wanted to show his face again. But he did. He came down from his lofty perch. He didn’t quit or run away. He didn’t try to forget all about it. He accepted his flawed nature, opened his heart, and moved forward into a quieter, gentler man who knew he indeed was “just like all the rest.” He could then become the saint we are all destined to become.
Without Peter’s failures, there may not have been a Christian church. Without my failures, there certainly wouldn’t have been a Human Kindness Foundation, no We’re All Doing Time. Without your failures, you may not have the credibility to help some of the young kids in your neighborhood, or cellblock, to find a more decent way of life than the craziness that’s all around them.
So the question is, are you using your failures yet? Are you getting the spiritual point of your failures, and moving into a Sacred Life devoted to faith, kindness, and helping others?
You and I deal with many people every day. Every one of those people hopes we are kind and humble and unselfish. They don’t care where we learned it. They don’t care whether it came easy or hard, through failures or successes. If the guy next to you starts choking, he doesn’t care where or how you learned the Heimlich Maneuver. He just hopes you use it!
One thing that you can begin taking for granted is that every person you meet who seems to have courage, dignity, compassion, and humility, has experienced failure, and weakness, and shame. So don’t be an egomaniac and feel like you’re the only one, or you’re a worse one than the next. Everybody’s got that stuff. Our spiritual victory rests only on what we are willing to do with it.