Fall, failure, and growing faith

By | May 9, 2019 10:59 am

By Topher Wiles

While spring is amazing with all its lively colors and growing greenery, autumn in the Upper Cumberland is still my favorite time of the year.   For 20 years, I’ve been backpacking from Savage Gulf to Fiery Gizzard in the fall.  Perhaps it’s the unobstructed views of the expansive valleys that open up late in the year that I enjoy.  It may be the red, yellow, and orange hues of the leaves that bring a smile to my face.  Yet, I think it’s the loss of leaves lightly fluttering to the ground that brings me peace as my feet find their way down a path.  Each year, I spend days in the woods quietly relearning the lesson that loss is necessary for new growth.

It’s not just the trees that experience loss for growth.  When I was in middle school, I joined the TSA Club (Technology Student Association).  Bridge building, rocket cars, and aerospace technology were the competitive events that got my attention, yet our TSA teacher/advisor required each student to participate in a speaking event as well at competitions.  Thus, I found myself sweating and trembling before a panel of three judges at the event called “Extemporaneous Speech.”  How was I supposed to compete in something I couldn’t pronounce?

My CO2 powered rocket car took first place in the district of Middle Tennessee, but my ability to speak persuasively, with only 15 minutes of prep, was a skill that I horribly lacked.  While the middle school Chris may have been like James and John wanting to call down fire from heaven (Luke 9:54) on my TSA advisor for making me join such a “pointless” event, the more mature Topher is grateful for the experience.  It was obvious I was competitive.  It was clear I hated to lose.   It was plain that I would grow from the experience because I wouldn’t give up.

Years later, after I finally won the Extemporaneous Speech competition in TSA, I thanked Mr. Bailey for having the wisdom to require me to join an event in which I would obviously lose at first.  It was in public speaking that I grew the most.

As parents, we tend to want our kids to win every time, all the time, driving us to some absurd lengths to avoid a loss.  In his drive to win, I recently had a parent tell me in front of a crowd, “You can practice your Christianity at church, but this is the baseball field!”   His message was clear – winning was everything.  Yet, I strongly disagree; winning a game isn’t worth losing your religion, but losing well can help you find personal growth and a deeper faith.

The Bible contains many histories of people who had to learn to lose well. Remember that David didn’t always win fights in Goliath style.  Recall that time the Amalekites out-strategized the wonder-boy military leader when they burned Ziklag to the ground (1 Samuel 30:1-6).  David’s men were so mad at him for losing their wives and children that they were ready to stone David to death (v. 6).  David grew from his loss and “found strength in the Lord.”

About 400 years earlier a strong man named Joshua came away licking his wounds after losing the battle at Ai (Joshua 7), a loss that would cause some introspection at spiritual growth for the people of Israel.

Nearly 1500 years after Joshua, a man named Paul would experience shipwrecks, beatings, imprisonment, and hunger on his quest to share the good news of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:16-33).  It was this same man who would later write, “I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Like David, Joshua, and Paul, it is in the moments of loss that we can experience the greatest growth in the Lord.

I know, the weak/strong paradox is a tough one to comprehend, but if a bunch of 9-year-old boys can understand it, so can you.  I’m blessed to coach a Little League baseball team in White County.  As our current record would show (0 wins; 7 losses), we definitely have the least experienced team comprised of players with the smallest stature.  Yet with each loss, our rookies are driving forward learning to play ground balls.  Our infielders are sharpening those throws to first base.  These pint-sized base runners are learning delayed steals as they slide over home plate to give triumphant high fives to their teammates.  While these kids may be experiencing more loss than some others at this time, they keep playing the game, encouraging their teammates, and celebrating growth from the loss.  If a 9-year-old can comprehend getting stronger in weakness, you can, too.

To all the students finishing up finals who struggled with the grade you received, I say, “Don’t despair. Work harder, learn more, and grow from your loss.”  To each school sports player who finished the district tournament with less than desirable results, I say, “Take heart, life will bring a new season for triumph if you choose to grow from your loss.”  To anyone who has experienced loss in your life recently, I want to remind you what Mr. Bailey taught me through extemporaneous speech competition so long ago.  Life won’t be filled with constant wins; sometimes it gives you hurt, grief, and embarrassment.  Yet with the Word of Christ dwelling richly in us (Colossians 3:16), our weakness will be turned to strength.  Growth comes from loss.  We will enjoy victory in the end.

“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 15:57    

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