I grew up being good.
I mean, I was good at things.
I was smart. I did well in school. I won academic awards.
I was musical. I played violin and I did well. I would get the highest ratings in competitions.
I even tried art, and won first place with a water color painting in a district wide art show.
I was good at soccer too. Without even knowing what I was doing, I placed very high in a city wide individual soccer skills competition and would score goals and more goals for my teams in my younger years.
But I also remember playing basketball:
First with my dad and brother growing up. And later in Jr. high and high school. And I was a miserable failure. I mean, I lost, continually for years. I didn't start for the teams I played on (or if I did start it was for the C team or Jr. varsity).
In my final years of high school I "graduated" into being the defensive stopper. What that meant was that I couldn't handle (dribble and pass) the ball well enough to be the point guard, or shoot the ball well enough to be the "shooting" guard. And my genetics were short enough that I wasn't close to being a forward or center.
I was "good" enough to come into the game when our really good players were tired. My job was strictly to harass the other teams guards into making mistakes for five to ten minutes a game. It was also my job to pass the ball to someone else on the team as quickly as possible if it ever got into my hands. I was a "good" defender, which is like being "fast" for a catcher in baseball - you're still slow.
I liked basketball I really wanted to be good. I would practice hours on end of shooting and dribbling. But basketball wasn't like some of my other endeavours. I wasn't good. I practiced and sweated and worked, and was a failure.
And relating to people:
I wanted to be a charismatic and attractive person, someone that people wanted to be around. My brother was like that. He was fun and funny. Humorous and engaging. People crowded around him and just wanted to be near him. And I wasn't like that. I was shy and bashful. When I spoke I stumbled over my words. I was generally overweight, and as I got older I became the dreaded "nice guy." Nice guys are well, "nice." But they aren't attractive or magnetic to people. I was furniture in a room. Nice to have around and make use of when needed but replaceable and not terribly important overall. I (sort of) tried to be engaging and charismatic but I was a failure.
And then college:
I spent three years at a prestigious engineering school. I even made the Dean's List as a freshman. And then after three years I couldn't hack it. I dropped out. I had now even failed school. I was a failure in academics.
And there was a girl at that school I liked:
A fun and engaging and attractive girl. But when asked, sShe told her Bible study leader that she might possibly date my friend Rick, but never me. She went as far as to say that there were two things she would never do: be a missionary in Africa and date me. I was a failure in a relationship before I had even had one.
And I found myself working as a mechanical assembler for a company called Particle Measuring Systems (PMS.) I sat on a stool eight hours a day with drawers full of screws, assorted tools and put together contraptions that I had no idea how to use.
Forty hours a week I listened to co-workers talking about women, drinking escapades and combinations of the two.
At Christmas time that year I attended a Christian conference for college-age people. I don't remember the main speaker or a single primary point from the conference. During one afternoon there were short seminars on various subjects about missions to different countries, relationships, Christian leadership, apologetics and many others. I don't even remember what seminar that I was attending. I do recall that that particular seminar was going to be a video presentation. And while waiting for a late arriving T.V. /video cart to appear, the seminar "host"chose to read a quote by a former secretary of the U.N. (I think). That quote - greatly paraphrased and mangled I am sure - said something to this effect: "We have young Christian people aspiring to be missionaries to all corners of the globe, to be pastors, and leaders in Christian organizations. But these people need to know that we need Christians in all aspects of society: We need Christian professors and teachers, Christian professionals - engineers and doctors. We need God's salt in all parts of society - not just the obviously Christian ones."
And a light went off in my heart:
"I could do that."
God touched my life at that moment. I have no other way to decribe it. It was as if God's hand thumped my forehead.
And I realized that I had been doing most of what I had been doing in my life up to that point because I felt other people wanted me to do those things. Not that, in my case, there were people overtly manipulating my emotions and life to get me to go their way. But I had never really looked at my life and said, "God what do you want me to do?" Until I asked that question - and was open to His answer - my life just drifted along and I felt like a failure.
In the following months I re-enrolled in college and eventually achieved an engineering degree. But I worked for that degree because of what had been revealed at that moment in my spirit. I could be a Christian and an engineer, and that was just as much of a calling as any person who has been drawn to the mission field in Africa or Asia or the Middle East.
I also ended up pursuing and marrying the girl who was never going to date me. (At this point we have six children and are wondering if God is ever going to send Africa our way.)
I have actually stepped out personally and have begun to engage people and not just hope that they want to be around me.
And I have begun to realize that the point between failure and success isn't if you fail at something, but it's in who you serve and why you choose to do what you do.
If God asks me to do something and I do it, and that thing "fails," it doesn't mean that I am a failure, it means that I was faithful. I did what I was asked to do.
If I don't ask God what He wants me to do next, then I am failing. I am failing to continue to walk with Him.
If I don't do what He asks me to do, then I have failed.
Proverbs 4:18 (NIV):
18 The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.