On Failures and Results

Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote,  

“Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. 

… The big results are not in your hands or mine.… All the good that you will do will not come from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love.” 

As long-term missionaries, this is a truth that is still painful, yet at the same time liberating. When slogging along for months with difficulties and obstacles, it is easy to think we have somehow failed. Conversely, when things are going well, it is quite tempting to attribute success to our talents and foresight. To get, as the USA midwesterners would say, “The big head.”

Either one is incredibly dangerous. To emerge from a failure sure that “If I had only,” then the results would have been different is to pile a burden that can crush the soul. But to believe that my achievement is solely due to my inspired leadership . . . well, that leads me to a place that I should not go.

While we were in Mozambique, I spent weeks preparing for a ladies luncheon, meant to encourage local missionary ladies. It was one of the big events at the retreat conference led by an outside organization, and I made tablecloths, got a speaker, and spent hours collecting flowers and making arrangements. On the day, the room was a burst of color and as they walked in, the ladies appreciated me lavishly. Wow did I come down a couple of pegs as the lunch was brought in: beans and rice! Everyone grimaced, but ate it with good will. I had not checked the menu for the week, assuming that a special meal would accompany our special luncheon, instead of the food that all of us ate many times a week at home.

Recently, God reminded me again that “it is God who works in you to will and to act on behalf of his good purpose . . . ” (Phil 2:13 exerpt). When he brings a task to mind, I thank him; when a great idea pops into my mind, I remember it is him who put it there. Or try to, anyway. Sometimes my pride gets its little claws into me and I don’t even want to dislodge it! He is so kind, to always let me try again . . . and again. . . -C

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