Afraid of the “F” word? When Failure becomes a bad word


Participation Trophies are humiliating, at least that is what THIS blogger says about that. And you know what? I think she’s right. And so do my kids – who have those trophies by the way. They also have trophies they actually EARNED and they like those a lot better.

While we (boomers and well wanna be boomers such as myself) lament over what is wrong with the allegedly overly entitled millennials (Gen Yer’s) they in turn lament over our own overly inflated opinion of self.

What is interesting to me is while writers and others lament over the way we’ve allegedly spoiled our millennial kids (I have two of them) with participation trophies for sports and science fairs, grades based on perceived ability to achieve as opposed to actual achievement, we too ignore our own shortfalls and I want to know when did failure become a bad word? 

When my children’s Christian grade school closed, we sought out one of those artsy fartsy country schools for my youngest. We thought it would be good for him to learn at his own pace in a more “open and accepting” environment. This school was so open and accepting (of anyone willing to pay $10k a year) that he wound up repeating the 6th grade when we transferred him to another school the following year. Turns out they grade on perceived ability and being the brilliant child he is – he convinced them he had the IQ of squid and made straight A’s all year while doing little more than breathing in and out. 

We’re even lied to in church. What with the feel good evangelical movement all around us that sells us a lie that I believe has the potential to condemn us.. The “God doesn’t make junk, therefore I don’t sin anymore” propaganda that some pulpits try to pour down our throats, even within my own synod sometimes. 

My only question is: If I don’t fail, don’t sin, and gosh darn it people like me, do I really need a savior? 

Don’t get me wrong, God doesn’t make junk, I’m not junk, some people really DO like me,  but I still sin, and I still fail. And I think it’s okay to admit that. 

And yet — I’m told that if I admit my failings, that I’m beating myself up needlessly. Really? I thought God’s word told us to confess our sins to one another.. To seek forgiveness. To be humble and transparent. 

There are those who would rather blame others, or blame God than admit they failed. If so and so had done thus and such everything would have turned out alright – or here’s a subtle lie I was recently told: 

I chaired a community egg hunt a few years back. We planned on about 1,000 people and twice that showed up. We were overrun, my volunteers bailed. Teens ran through the crowd and stole most of our eggs (I’m not making that up). Hundred’s of children went without. I had children crying, parents yelling. What was left of my team jumped under the prize tent to split up baskets and hand out what we could to children. Parents, upset that their child had not received anything yet stole prizes out of our hands. 

The egg hunt was in my mind a complete disaster. I – as chairman and MC of the Event failed. I learned from it, I know what to do differently now and what went wrong, but I still – in my opinion – failed. 

What surprises me is how many people are eager to hand me a participation trophy. They tell me that I am the only person on the entire team who takes personal accountability for that event and considers it a failure. “We didn’t fail Deana. God just used that to show us we weren’t thinking big enough. So you really don’t need to beat yourself up.” 

Oh really? 

Don’t get me wrong, God’s grace covers a multitude of shortcomings yes, and I’m not talking about perfection here – what I am talking about though – is when I die and go to heaven, I don’t want a participation trophy that says “good for you, you tried.” I want those crowns that we’re promised, the ones we get to throw back at the feet of Christ. The ones we cannot get unless we are willing to try, fail, admit we failed, confess, repent, and try again. 

Oh I failed — miserably. I was ill prepared, over run and terrified of not only the crowd, but the people “above me” who wouldn’t listen to my arguments of location location location. The good news is, I didn’t stay down.  I took all of that back to the cross, and picking myself up, dusting myself off, I prayed for teachers, and opportunities to learn how to do better next time. 

And God answered those prayers with wonderful men and women who came along side me for a season and have taught me great things about ministry, planning, events, speaking, and even comedy. By admitting I failed, I open myself up to more grace and more of God’s hand than I could ever imagine. And yet, so many times, so many of us would rather receive a participation trophy than admit we failed. Why is that? 

I believe failure becomes a bad word when we don’t own it. When we can’t get past the false shame and confess – truthfully – to God and to eachother that we missed the mark.

Failure becomes a bad word when we miss the redemption that Christ promises us in his word. “If we say we have no sin we decieve ourselves and the truth is not in us. BUT if we confess ours sins (failures) God who is faithful and Just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Why do you think we are afraid of the “F” word? Why are we – our generation – afraid to own it when we fail? I’d love to hear from you. 


This blog post is written by Deana O’Hara for Redemption’s Heart. All rights reserved. Deana lives in Oklahoma, is a stand up comic, motivational speaker, mother of two highly creative boys and the wife of one awesome musician.




2 thoughts on “Afraid of the “F” word? When Failure becomes a bad word

  1. I’m responding to some NY times authors who are accusing our kids generation of being selfish and entitled and then blaming us – the boomers for creating that with our handing out trophies, and what not. This generation – the milenials – are in turn pointing the finger back at us (I’m technically a Gen X) and saying we are full of ourselves. And to some extent they are right. But then that has been an arguement since Socrates day..

    I’m generalizing a bit I suppose in that regard. Every generation seems to point the finger up and down.

    The expensive artsy school that cared more about my son’s self esteem than whether or not he learned anything – did him no favors. We had to hold him back the next year and they would not have.

    The churches that teach once we have Christ, we are no longer sinners and no longer need confession either in our lives nor in our worship services are lying to us as well.

    Not to discount trying our best, I’ve just noticed a lot of non accountability lately and am shocked to discover I’m perceived at times as someone who beats myself up because I call personal failure, failure.


  2. I see your point and agree with it except I don’t understand the generational part. Actually I think the concept of not losing came more from the PC crowd, whenever someone came up with that idea. Or the “I’m ok, your’e ok” crowd.
    But most of the people I know who turn to God upon being broken do better thereafter


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