A Call to Failure

I had a call to a mission,

          Signed in my heart and sealed,

And I felt my success was certain,

          And the end seemed already revealed;

The sea was without a murmur,

          Unwrinkled its even flow,

And I heard the master commanding,

          And I was constrained to go.


But, out from the peaceful haven,

          There woke a terrible storm,

And the waves around were in chaos,

          And the land appeared without form

And I stretched my hands to the Father

          And cried in a chilling fear-

“Didst not Thou pledge Thy presence!

          And naught but failure is here!”


Then in the midst of the thunder

          There rose a still, small voice,

Clear through the roar of the waters,

          Deep through their deafening noise:

“Have I no calls to failure!

          Have I no blessing for loss!

Must not the way to thy mission

          Lie through the path of thy cross!”


It came as a revelation-

          It was worth the price of the gale

To know that the souls that conquer

          Must at first be the souls that fail-

To know that where strength is baffled

          I have reached the common ground

Where the highest meet with the lowly

          Where the heart of man is found


O door of the heart’s communion

          My Father gave me the key

When he called me out to the ocean,

          And summoned the storm to me;

For the wings of the storm that smote me

          Were the wings of humanity’s breast

As it moved on the face of the waters

          And sighed for an ark of rest


Years have gone by since that sadness

          And many an hour has come

When the storm in the ships of others

          Has signaled me out from home;

Yet I never can see that signal

          But I feel how much I owe

To the day that, when called to failure,

          My steps were constrained to go.

              —George Matheson 

History is unrepeatable, historians say, but it can be re-lived many times in one’s memory. I like to savor my successes; my failures I’d rather forget. I’m gradually wondering, however, “How much I owe to the day that, when called to failure, my steps were constrained to go.”

Blunders, mistakes and missed opportunities could then be a means of grace and great blessing if I accept them as part of my call. “Souls that conquer must at first be the souls that fail.” I wish there was another way.

Through humiliation “strength is baffled,” I am disabused of my illusions of grandeur and brought very low. I do not like this. There, I am learning “to meet with the lowly.”[1] with my losses enabling me “to find the heart of man,” i.e., to get “in touch” with others’ feelings. I can surely empathize with those who have fallen; I can quickly accept and love them as no other can.

But must I let go of regret. “As long as I remain [constrained] by things that I wish had not happened—mistakes I wish I had not made—part of my heart remains isolated, unable to bear fruit in the new life ahead of me.”[2] Brooding over past disasters has and will continue to intimidate me, turning me away from love; feelings of inadequacy will always isolate me, making me afraid to venture out again.

So I guess I can say that accepting my failures is simple proof that I am inadequate indeed. In the core of my being, God’s strength is made perfect in this weakness with grace to turn outward to others and to do so with greater compassion, sensitivity, wisdom and understanding. Thus it logically suggests that my mistakes are redeemed and put to God’s intended purpose.

Failure is not ruinous; I am called to failure and owe much to each day that I fail. The lessons that we learn there, “are worth the price of the gale.”

[1] I think Matheson is thinking here of Romans 12:16 and Paul’s admonition to “associate with the lowly.”

[2] Henri Nouwen 

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2 Responses to A Call to Failure

  1. Jesus Aguilar says:

    We of alcoholics anonymous failed the first call and we had to mix with the lower companions.
    What came about was an army of willing people to go back to the trenches and extend our hands to the ones that fail just like we did. Here I attach a piece of literature.

    God in His wisdom selected this group of men and women to be the purveyors of His goodness. In selecting those to bring about this phenomenon He went not to the proud, the mighty, the famous nor the brilliant. He went, instead, to the humble and the unfortunate. He went to the drunkard – the so called weakling of the world. He might well have said to us: “Unto you weak and feeble hands I have entrusted a power beyond estimate. To you have been given that which has been denied the most learned of your fellows. Not to scientists, not to wives nor mothers, not even to my priests or ministers have I given this gift of healing other alcoholics which I entrust to you. It must be used unselfishly. It carries with it grave responsibility. No da can be too long – no effort too great. It must be used with tolerance for I have restricted its application to no race, no creed and no denomination. Personal criticism you must expect. Lack of appreciation will be common. Ridicule will be your lot. Your motives will be misjudged. You must be prepared for adversity, for what men call adversity is the ladder you must ascend – rung by rung – toward spiritual perfection; and remember, in the exercise of this power, I shall not exact from you beyond your capabilities. You are selected because of your exceptional talents. Be careful always, if success attends your efforts, not to ascribe to personal superiority that to which you can lay claim only by virtue of my gift. If I had wanted learned men to accomplish this mission, the power would have been entrusted to the physician and the scientist. If I had wanted eloquent men there would have been many anxious for the assignment, for talk is the easiest used of all the talents which I have endowed mankind. If I had wanted scholarly men, the word is filled with better qualified men than you who would be available. You were selected because you have been the outcast of the world and your experience as drunkards has made (or should make) you humbly alert to the cries of alcoholics everywhere. Keep ever in mind the admission you made on the day of your profession in Alcoholics Anonymous – that you are powerless and that it was only with your willingness to turn your life and will unto my keeping that relief came to you.”
    Here you have it.

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