This post is revised from one originally posted November 3, 2015.
As we begin to prepare for yet another election this November, I am reminded of a presidential debate some years ago. I was struck by how unprepared the candidates were for the first question: “Identify your biggest weakness and what you are doing to address it.” By and large they avoided the question or simply took their answer in another direction. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at their responses. After all, how often do most of our political leaders acknowledge their weaknesses and failures.
Of course, politicians aren’t alone in their reluctance to acknowledge their weakness and failure; this is a problem for most human beings, myself included. I find it rather ironic how much I struggle acknowledging that failure is a part of my human condition given how often I fail. You would think that I would have grown accustomed to the whole experience. Throughout the course of a day, I constantly “drop the ball.” It might be a sermon that just didn’t come together. It might be a pastoral call in which I realized afterward that I completely missed what was really going on. It might have been an interaction with a friend in which I was too distracted to notice their need. It might have been forgetting to do something for my wife that I absolutely promised I would do. (Unfortunately, this last example is a frequent occurrence.)
Why is it such a struggle to accept our failures? Somewhere along the way we forgot that being a human being means that weakness and failure are part of the job description. After all, God didn’t make us out of titanium, but fragile dust! We also forgot that trying to love God, navigate the complexities of life, and love others isn’t easy. We are always going to fail a lot when we are trying to do something demanding. (Just try to hit a golf ball in the middle of the fairway.)
When it comes to acknowledging weakness and failure, the most important thing we forget is this: It is precisely our weaknesses and failures that make us realize how much we need God and other people. In fact, the Christian journey begins when we acknowledge that we can’t go it alone and need help. We don’t receive the waters of baptism as a reward for our strength and virtuous behavior, but as a gift for acknowledging our need for God’s love and mercy.
Isn’t that interesting? It turns out that our weaknesses and failures, which we often try to deny at all cost, bring us to the one thing we most desperately need—God.