On my honor, I will do my best...
Updated: Jan 4
I was recently with a student group whose motto began: "On my honor, I will do my best..."
A worthy motto, when you give it some thought. To begin, we are responsible for the effort we give. Often, effort is the only thing we have maximum control over. My effort is a reflection on the honor I have for those who have invested in me as well as the God who gifted me with an ability to put forth effort toward a worthy cause. Honor matters.
And then, to do my best. We live in a culture that offers constant social media comparisons to others that easily leave us feeling like we're missing out. As any good motto should, this directs the focus back to my effort in comparison to myself. I may not succeed or reach perfection, but I can always do my best.
This brings me to the thought I shared with this student group:
What does it feel like to do your best, and lose?
Did you ever lose a race or a game when you were in school? How angry were you with yourself? Or, how angry did you get with the referee?
When we have a parenting failure, there are feelings of frustration with our child, our spouse, ourselves, or some mix of all three.
When we perfectly articulate our opinion on social media...we will still eventually be met with criticism, misunderstanding, correction, or, as seems more and more common today, the label of a hateful bigot.
What about starting a conversation with someone about faith? You work up the courage to speak, finally, only to you to be shut down or dismissed or denied. Having your faith dismissed is disheartening and embarrassing.
We are humbled when we miss a promotion. Being on the losing end of an argument is embarrassing. Asking someone out on a date and then meeting rejection or a luke-warm response seems to be a particular source of embarrassment today.
That is a long list of examples. Indeed, everyday life is rife with the potential for failure.
One might think we'd come to expect failure and learn from failure. More often, however, we deny failure and respond only to our fear of failure.
We might not notice this phenomenon because it is so embedded in our culture, but the common response is to simply equate how I feel with what I should think. If I feel afraid of failing, we're led to believe that the feeling of fear will determine how I should think and respond.
When feeling dictates thinking, we stop trying. We fear negative feelings associated with failure. We stop listening to those we trust who encourage us to keep trying. We feel hopeless about moving on to the next job or date or activity and so we don't.
“I won’t try because I could fail or lose. If I don’t start, then at least I can’t fail.”
"I'll never do something as well as someone I admire, so what benefit do I add by trying and not doing as well as them?”
"The good is the enemy of the great. I'll probably fail at being great, so I'll skip the good and just not start."
Thankfully, a Biblical perspective is both encouraging and helpful here.
God is always coming alongside people in the Bible to help them distinguish between feelings from thinking.
The more I read the Bible, the more I see that feeling does not determine thinking. What I feel is not necessarily reality. I can think differently about how I feel. I am more than how I feel at this moment. Feelings are part of my experience, but they are not the whole experience.
Many Biblical characters fail. Many of them must have experienced fear. Why else is the most common Biblical phrase from God to man "Do not be afraid"? Yet, many aren't allowed to equate their feelings with their thinking. They are angry, frustrated, and embarrassed. And yet, they keep trying.
Proverbs 24:16 defines part of what it means to be a “righteous” or “wise” person when we read: “Even though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again.” How frustrating would it be to fail seven times? Over and over again? The proverb teaches that the one who rises again after falling ends up being the righteous and wise man. A righteous or wise man must use their thinking to redirect their feeling.
It is better to try and fail than to not try at all.
What happens when we try our best and fail? We can learn. In this sense, learning is a grace of God.
As created beings, we are a complicated and blessed mix of instinct and experience and nurture. Unlike any other living thing, we learn that we can learn. We learn how to learn. Best of all, we adapt to what we are willing to learn. After all, followers of Jesus are often known as learners. "So Jesus said to the Jews who had believe in him, 'If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free'" (John 8:31-32). A learner continues in the words of Jesus; continuing in Jesus' words means getting up after we fall.
We should ask ourselves: Do I hate to learn because I fear failure? Do I love to learn and accept failure as part of the process?
Only through trying and learning can some things in life be accomplished. When we try and fail, we can learn.
The word "essay" comes from the idea "to try". I always saw an essay as needing to be something perfected and feared starting because I might never get the essay to that place. But as a verb, "to essay" is to try and learn through writing and re-writing. It is freeing to approach some writing as the forming and shaping and clarifying of ideas, all of which involves failure and learning and risk and trying.
Adults count the cost and take risks. It's a risk to learn something new; to start a new friendship; to begin a new business; to decide to stop giving in to a chronic sin and temptation. As Christian adults, we not only have the option of learning from trial and error. There is also a guarantee of grace. I can even fail in a major way in important things and retain the ability to seek forgiveness. Children, spouses, and our Creator all have the capacity to forgive us when we humbly ask.
There is a risk that trying will lead to losing, but if you ask “what can I learn”, then there is a guarantee of grace.
There is also risk by never taking a risk. We put all our eggs in the one basket that the person I am now is as much growth as I'll ever need. Sure, there are things we should respect and fear. But we should not be afraid, and paralyzed, to fail.
“When I get this wrong on my first try, what can I learn? When it’s time to get up and try again, what will I do differently?”
"Good people might fall again and again, but they always get up. It is the wicked who are defeated by their troubles." Proverbs 24:16 ERV