Know the difference between winners and losers? Winners are those who have failed more than losers! No, this isn’t some clever turn of a phrase. It’s the truth! Yes, winners somehow overcome their fear of failure. Or, they let go of their need to be in control or to appear perfect.
Winners are those who understand they will fail — again and again. More importantly, winners accept — even invite — imperfection, mistakes and failure as part of the process of growing, living, learning. It’s as if winners somehow turn fear on its head by indulging the freedom to fail. They seem to live by some liberating appreciation that winning really is more fun than losing!
Case in point… I’m a really crappy swimmer. I’m scared to death of water. I could probably “save myself” but I make very effort never to find out. Pools are not fun places for me — I’m not in control, paralyzed by fear, avoiding any risk of “jumping” into deep water! Imagine how much fun I have missed because of my fear of failure, unwillingness to make a mistake, of not being “perfect.”
Here’s a true confession… this distinction between winners and losers came to me while reading about Thomas Merton’s fascination with Zen Buddhism and Russian Orthodox theology. While critically noting what he judges to be “mistakes”, Merton expresses admiration for each tradition’s willingness to ask bold questions and rend “profound insights into the real meaning of Christianity — insights which we simply cannot ignore.”
Perhaps his ability to admit his own limitations and partial understanding, Merton appreciated Buddhism and Orthodoxy’s freedom to make mistakes “in order to say something great and worthy of God.” He muses, “One wonders if our theological cautiousness is not after all the sign of a fatal coldness of heart, an awful sterility born of fear, or of despair.”
Yesterday Pope Francis gave us a picture of what this might look like in the concrete while a guest at a large Lutheran church in Rome. A Lutheran woman married to a Catholic man told him of her pain in not being able to take communion together in each other’s churches.
Saying “life is bigger than explanations and interpretations,” Francis suggested that we should not be held captive by abstract theological principles. Ultimately, we are each bound to follow our well-informed, mature moral conscience.
“It is a question that each person must answer for themselves,” Francis said, suggesting that even the church’s authority is below that of God’s in such personal matters. Francis offered a pastoral response to the woman: “There is one baptism, one faith, one Lord, so talk to the Lord and move forward. I dare not, I cannot, say more.”
Live! Jump in! Swim! “Pick up your mat and walk!” Or expressed in yet another way, “love casts out all fear.” In that grace, we are set free. In this truth, we are all winners!
My reference to Thomas Merton quotes Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton by Christopher Pramuk. Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazier, Liturgical Press, 2015. p. 12.
You may read the Reuters report of Pope Francis’ visit to the Lutheran Church in Rome [here].