“A Successful Failure”

A recent visit to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida reminded me of the life and death drama that unfolded during the flight of Apollo 13 to the moon in April 1970. The lunar landing was aborted when an oxygen tank exploded two days into the mission.

The loss of oxygen threatened the survival of the three astronauts. The three moved from the command module to the lunar lander. Attached to the nose of the command module, the lunar lander became something of a lifeboat. With much help from the ground crew, the three astronauts used available materials in the command module and lunar module to jerry-build systems. They needed a four day supply of oxygen to make it to the moon, slingshot around it, and return to earth. It was a long four days with a lack of electric power, cold conditions, and a lack of water, but they made it safely back to earth.

The mission never landed on the moon as originally planned. However, under very difficult circumstances, they were able to return to earth. The mission was declared “a successful failure” by NASA.

We don’t get through life without some failures. The failures may be different for each of us, but each of us faces them. The fact that we can look back on having failed means that we’ve survived those failures, at least enough to be able to look back upon them! Now what do we do? How should we view our failures?

Having been a student of the Bible for a lifetime and a proclaimer of its message for a good part of that, I’m confident in saying the so-called heroes of the Bible failed on many occasions. The list includes Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, and Peter. Yet, God used them all in mighty ways!

God never intends for failure to be final! There’s always a good option after failure. If the failure is in part or entirely our fault, we can admit it, always a good first step. Failure is often a humbling experience, and an increase in humility is always good! We can learn from the failure. Think of Thomas Edison and the thousands of failures he experienced in finding the right filament for the light bulb. Learning from our failures certainly fits under the heading of failing forward. Most important of all is to remember that God knew about our failures before they happened, and He has a plan! He can have good come out of any failure. In other words, like Apollo 13, we can have a successful failure!

Joseph said to his brothers when they came to him in Egypt for food after having failed badly as brothers years earlier by selling him to slave traders, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)

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