My Favorite Mistakes—Part Two—Lessons I’ve Learned From Failing Slowly

Lies_Truth_2Thanks for your overwhelming response to the first five favorite mistakes. Here are five more to add. There are many more.

I once read the mantra for a company called IDEO. It was simply, “Fail Quickly.”

I wish I had read that several decades ago. I have the tendency to fail slowly. With a thousand pardons to Sheryl Crow, here are a few of my favorite mistakes.

1. Placing religious leaders as father figures—I still do not have this completely figured out. My therapist and I are working through it. I think it has something to do with the unquestioning respect I was taught to give adults. I inevitably placed the leader of my organization in a father-type role. That they were pastors probably also had something to do with it. In Catholicism, we even call them “Father.” I suppose I was much like the altar boys that silently let that unquestioned authority figure abuse them sexually. Except my abuse was emotional. Both are enormously damaging. We are supposed to do what they tell us, right? We are supposed to trust them. But we forget one big fact. They are human, just like we are.

There is no pastor or papal or monarchial infallibility. But we want so bad to believe there is. When I hear about these new fundamentalist pastors who are having so much success (they have to be doing something right?—it’s America and if you grow something big—you have to be right, right?), all the while demanding everyone call them pastor or reverend, and require everyone to stand up when they enter—it makes me shudder. I fear for the staff and congregation who blindly serve them in obeisance, and I fear for the imminent failure of the pastor himself. Because write it down…he will fail. Our frail humanity demands failure as much as it craves a father figure to serve.

2. Expecting friends to be more than just the next thing I can do for them—My caring, highly trained and respected therapist was sitting across from me a few months ago and gently asked, “Randy, really, did it surprise you, when you made your “big” mistake, that most of your friends were only as good as the next thing you could do for them. And when you became a “Christian business” liability, you suddenly became invisible. Did that really surprise you?” Unfortunately, it did surprise me. Big mistake.

Over the subsequent months, as Dr. S and I work through this together, I’ve come to understand my expectations for my closest friends was unreasonable. I expect them to be perfect. No one is perfect. I expected a tribe. But when asked to walk through pain and difficulty, most of the tribe disappear, it’s every person for himself. The Bible teaches us that we alone are responsible for our actions, we just don’t want to believe it. Why do we expect the lepers to come back and say thanks, when they certainly did not do so for even Jesus himself.

3. Letting a glorified life coach with a “Christian” label function as therapist—A life coach is NOT a trained therapist. A life coach is a coach. Before you bare your soul to a “counselor,” Christian or not, be very sure they are licensed and be aware of the following guidelines: Never see someone who is on a church staff or associated with a church; Ask therapist: who are theorists that influence them? Some good names to listen for are Bowlby, Kohut, Jung, etc; Have them describe in a paragraph how they work with clients; Ask: Is the relationship that develops between you and your client important to you? Then listen very carefully to the answer; Ask: Have you done and continue to do ongoing therapy? (How can they possibly be effective and empathic if they do not know what it is like to sit on other side of couch?); You must feel completely comfortable and safe with them. If not—it is not a fit. Find someone else; Ask: What sort of ongoing training are you engaged in? Not just your CEU’s but ongoing training. Are you in supervision? Do you have a consultation group?; Definitely look for a licensed therapist with a Master’s or Doctorate level license or a physician.

Well trained and caring therapists give us the language we need to explore the workings of our selves, our psyche, our soul. Poorly trained counselors project their own issues and problems onto the myriad we each already have.

4. Making God too small—We need to let go of our images of God—the idols we cling to so tightly—and recognize that any image or pronouncement we can ever make about God is much to small to contain the divine. Even the word “God” is problematic because it carries with it so many interpretations and limits based on our cultural understandings. The via negativa or apophatic way in Christian tradition, which means the way of unknowing, demands that we talk about God only in terms of negatives, or what God is not. Alan Jones, in his book Soul-Making, writes, “We can only say that God is both unknowable and inexhaustible.” Humility is required. We are so attached to our ideas of who God is and how God works in the world. Ultimately, what the desert journey demands is that we let go of even this false idol and open ourselves to the God who is far more expansive than we can behold or imagine.

Letting go of our images of God can be terrifying. It is often the result of an experience of suffering in our lives, when our previous understanding is no longer adequate to give meaning to what has happened to us. When my 32 year marriage dissolved in 2011, I was thrust into the desert. All of my certainties about God and life were stripped away and I was left raw and frightened. Many people offered trite words and shallow comfort in my grief, they were not willing to sit with me in the darkness, but only hoped to rush me through to a place of light.

This is the mystical experience of the “dark night of the soul,” when old convictions and conformities dissolve into nothingness and we are called to stand naked to the terror of the unknown. It is only in this place of absolute surrender that the new possibility can emerge. We don’t just have one dark night in our lives, but again and again, as we are called to continue releasing the feeble images of God we cling to so tightly. Thanks to Christine Paintner for many of these words.

5. Looking for meaning in life in all the wrong places—The points made above in #1 and #2 surprisingly provide a paradoxical benefit in our search for meaning. Others cannot help us. We must be alone if we are to find out what it is that supports us when we can no longer support ourselves. Only this experience can give us an indestructible foundation. Finding what supports you from within will link you to transcendence, reframe the perspectives received from your history, and provide the agenda of growth, purpose, and meaning that we all are meant to carry into the world and to share with others. Look within. The soul asks each of us that we live a larger life. James Hollis words have been pivotal for me in this road less traveled.


By randy

Encouraging people to find out who they are so they can live their lives fully.

7 replies on “My Favorite Mistakes—Part Two—Lessons I’ve Learned From Failing Slowly”

Sure appreciate your lessons and insight!
I’m in the midst of learning and failing myself.

These two posts were very insightful. Thanks for letting me glean some wisdom from you, Randy!


Wow. Thanks for your insight! #2 and #3 I painfully resonate with. Your perspective on the lepers not even returning to Jesus! I live through that even now and to see you on the other side brings me comfort. Thank you!

Thanks, Shelli. Agh. I’m so sorry you can relate…that means not so good things…but also glad it brings you comfort.


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