Does Your Failure Mean I’m a Failure?
I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. Galatians 4:11
I spend a fair amount of time and effort trying to help those who struggle with chemicals. Because I’ve been there, knowing the misery of addiction, and because of my own recovery, I want to help others find recovery. The sad fact though, is that failure on the part of those struggling is a regular occurrence. I meet everyone who comes into our treatment center and though I’m always hopeful, I know that many of them won’t be sober in a couple months, let alone in a year. Addiction, by nature, is marked by repeated relapses.
This can be frustrating. When I pour something of myself into the lives of others and they don’t do well, I can take it personally. It can be terribly disappointing to see patients find success in treatment, only to fall back to the old life once they get out. In those moments, it’s easy to ask, Am I doing something wrong? Is their failure my failure? Am I wasting my time?
Paul appears to have wrestled with a similar question in today’s passage. In it, he lamented the Galatians relapse and regression. Though they once found salvation through faith in Christ, they subsequently turned to the false gospel of saving themselves through their deeds. Paul chastised them for this and even suggested that all his previous work with them had been wasted.
Was Paul suggesting that their failure was his failure? No, absolutely not. Paul was obedient in sharing the gospel with them. He did his duty to God and to the Galatians. If Paul’s lament of laboring in vain had been a feeling of failure on his own part, then I think he might have been wrong to write those words. The fact that he said them to the Galatians though, revealed his true motive. He used it as an argument to turn them back to Christ, saying, Look how far you’ve come. Don’t turn back now. Don’t make it all for nothing. You can still repent.
It’s natural for us to bear some burden for those we desire to help. When we pour ourselves into their lives, it’s normal for us to want them to do well. We can be sad when they fail, but we can’t take their failure on ourselves. Some will make it and that’s why we continue to do what we do. Even those who fail may eventually return and get it right next time. We don’t live and die on each success or failure. We must simply continue to obey God, loving those around us and leaving the results up to him.