Fail Forward

Fail Forward


Matthew 22:34-40

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 'Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?' He said to him, ' "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.'


Earlier in the just completed baseball season, I read an article about the various pressures to which Major League players were subjected on a daily basis. One phrase grabbed my attention. Underlining all those pressures (from travel, night games/day games and injuries to competition for playing time), one player was quoted as saying, "you have to be really good at failure to be good in professional baseball." How true!! A major league position player is considered a success at batting if he hits safely two to three times out of ten at-bats. Greatness is within reach if, over the course of a lengthy career, one's overall batting record shows three to four hits out of ten tries. Only a handful of players since 1900 have managed to get beyond a .400 percentage for just one year. Boston Red Sox's "splendid splinter," Ted Williams, was the last one to achieve that in 1941, almost seventy-five years ago. Major League Pitchers face the same tough road. Winning just over half of their game decisions is considered a solid season and pitching a complete nine-inning game is a rarity. Baseball success is hard to come by and it demands incredible self-discipline as well as talent and a good bit of luck. Most of all it requires a healthy capacity to keep moving ahead.

In scriptural terms, our oldest source of wisdom, the baseball axiom of becoming successful failures is a form of recognizing that we are called to an impossible mission: to love God with all the faculties we have and our neighbor as ourselves. We won't succeed each time we are in situations that call for us to be kind and compassionate, because doing that is harder than hitting a 95 mph baseball, and even harder to sustain day after day. But each morning we get new opportunities to help make this a compassionate world. What matters is that we stay in the game, focus on Jesus' example; and trust, as Jesus did, that God cares most of all about the times we minister to the hurting and helpless (especially "the least of these)" to heal and restore (see Matthew 25). We can assume that God cares about our failures, but God's call is to move on, focus on sharing God's compassionate love with all our neighbors, and learn to fail forward.


Lord, grant us the faith we need to move beyond our failures, accept your forgiveness, practice compassion, and be grateful each day that we are able to be in the game. Amen.

Gordon S. Bates

Minister of Visitation for the First Church of Christ Congregational UCC in Glastonbury, Connecticut

October 22, 2014
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