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  • Writer's pictureJeremiah Ritchie

500 Words - Day 7: Write about a time you failed

NOTE: This writing is bad, bad enough that I'm noting here the purpose of the 500 words a day. Whatever your goals are, whatever you're working toward, done is better than good. Just keep doing the work. Doing the work is good, even if the result is not.

My family moved to Owosso, MI in 2015 where I served as a pastor for the first and what I expect is the last time. It was the most difficult thing I have ever done, both the move and the work. With some effort I can spin a perspective where good things happened, where I was faithful to what I still believe is the purpose of the Church, where I learned a lot and made a positive impact on many lives. But if I'm being honest and allow myself to be very vulnerable, I still look at those two and a half years there as a failure.

I haven't spoken very openly about my time as a pastor, at least not publicly. I find it difficult because of all the religious and institutional trauma people have experienced and carry, and I don't want to be just another voice of criticism or to inflame the trauma of others' experiences. I find it difficult because the failings I experienced were not all mine, in fact I wouldn't even care to risk a guess on who was more responsible for what, but I have no desire to blame anyone specifically. But perhaps I find it most difficult because of how hard, challenging...just plain painful those years were, and because I know I'm in some ways still healing from the wounds of that time.

I experienced failure in a few realms. I experienced professional failure in my inability to coalesce a small, dying church around a new vision, to abandon the known good for the possible great. Only once I was in the situation did I learn how nearly impossible that proves to be (a speaker at a conference told pastors in that situation to leave their churches as they could not recover from the organizational malaise they were in). I experienced a failure of the task I was hired to accomplish. Even if the reality of accomplishing that task was less likely than I knew, it still felt like a failure and one I was responsible for. And I experienced a felt-failure as a father and a husband. My wife and children wouldn't express it that way or even agree with the premiss that our move was a failure, but pulling up roots from the only home our kids had know, from their friends and our own friends and community, from the familiar things like the sound of the church bells or the train whistle or our neighbor starting up his truck in the early mornings felt like a failure for all the pain it caused. Then, after beginning to settle into a new home, we moved them again.

The failures, real or imagined, mounted. I can still take myself to my office floor where I was laying flat on my back before service, experiencing an anxiety attack, feeling a physical weight on my chest that made it hard to breath, and needing someone else to run service that day so that my wife could take me home. I jokingly say that one of the best things came out of being a pastor - sending me to therapy.

But maybe, if I am able to reflect with any sort of a redemptive tone, there is some way for me to cling to a way forward. The summary of my feelings of failure around my experiences in those two and a half years is that things did not go as I had planned. They did not work the way I wanted them to work or turn out the way I wanted them to turn out. They did not go according to plan or follow the linear progression that we expect should come with personal or professional success. But that is not failure. If you'll permit me to be playful with the semantics, life not happening the way we want or expect might mean that we failed to meet our expectations, but failure happens when we stop living, stop trying. Failure happens when we refuse to heal, when we allow failings to control our choices that affect who we are becoming and what we choose to do with the rest of the story.

And by that measure I am no longer failing.

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