Failure Trophies

This post is inspired by a practice outlined in Kalyn Falk’s book, “I Am Here: Six Postures of Prayer” which is a part of our Spirit Lab exercise in body prayer. The book is part memoir, part hand-book, exploring Kalyn’s own rich and complicated relationships with her body and her God, and giving the reader very practical tips and exercises to bring the two together. As a part of our month-long experiment in body prayer, I’ve spent many mornings cuddled up with this book, reading a chapter and then sinking into the practice outlined at the end of it.

At first, the exercise seemed over-simple. I doubted whether it even counted as body prayer. Maybe I should flip around and find something more… athletic?

“Sit in a position that is comfortable and stable. Make space for yourself… Let your body know that you are present to it, that you care and that you are open to listening to it… Ask: Is there any important feeling inside me right now that needs listening to?”

In the spirit of experimentation, I thought I’d give it a go. The worst thing that could happen is nothing, right? Maybe I just have a calm little moment of quiet and then go on with my day.

So I got quiet, and sat with my hands open, as I often do when I pray. I asked God (and my body too, I guess) what I needed to work on.

Failure.

The answer was that clear.

“Notice where you carry this feeling in your body. If it helps, put your hand on the place where you are carrying it and notice how it feels… notice if it has a colour, weight or feel to it.”

The night before, I had gotten into a fight with my husband, Brendan. Well, not a fight, exactly… it was more like I had one idea of how things should go, and it was becoming clear that it wasn’t a very good idea. I got all worked up, had a hard time letting it go.

I felt like a failure. It was a failure to be sensible. A failure to be kind and graceful to my kind and graceful husband. I had to walk away from the project we were doing, spend time just calming myself down, leaving him to work all alone. Failure, failure, failure.

Sitting there in the morning, I let myself remember how it felt in my body. At first, failure feels like a fuzzy, muzzy cloud, located at the bottom of my rib-cage. It spreads out, takes over my body, keeps me from seeing clearly. My body feels electrified with shame. I become defensive, try to keep the feeling of having failed from crystallizing into true, unavoidable failure, and knowing all along that it’s too late.

“Ask yourself if this feeling or image wants to unfold a little further… it might want to reveal something about it that you haven’t noticed yet.”

Over time, the cloud doesn’t dissipate; it condenses into a hard little marble, and it drops down into my lower belly. I move my hand there and feel the marble clink into a whole pile of marbles. Every one of my failures is down there. The time I unknowingly used a swear word as a kid. The time I wasn’t cast in the school play. The time I screwed up the calendar at work. The time I got chewed out by a lady at church.

I’m afraid that the pile will grow, that it will fill up my whole body with heavy, noisy failure

Sitting there that morning, noticing my pile of marbles, I remember that I’m supposed to be praying. I ask God: “so now what?”

I imagine Jesus walking up to me with a knife and piercing my belly so that all of my marbles spill out and clatter around my feet. Like lancing an abscess. They start to roll away.

I want to kneel down and gather them up! To let them go is to relinquish my expertise in failure. I have a certain pride that says “I know what success looks like. I know when I have failed.” To be pierced is to give over my own right to self-judgement, to give up every failure that I’ve kept as a trophy to prove I know the difference.

I know I’m supposed to feel grateful, but I feel scared. This isn’t about following the rules anymore. If nothing I do wrong will condemn me, nothing I do right will save me.  I will have to lean into Christ’s promise on me, to hear that I have been chosen, marked, claimed by none other than my own pierced God. That in being pierced I am being healed, restored to the light, free being I was created to be. It feels scary. But it also feels true.

The pierced one has pierced me. No more marbles; now my wound is my trophy, to say “here is where Christ took my burden. Here is where my death spilled out.”

“Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from the works prescribed by the law.” -Romans 3:27-28

I invite you to try this exercise. When you become quiet and let your body teach you, what do you learn? How do you experience God?

2 comments on “Failure Trophies

  1. Whoah! Thanks for going so raw-ly and fully with us through your inner world and shame and process. I was very *with* you through the whole writing.

    My own process required me to grieve. In a sense, it didn’t work for me to believe that the failures were taken from me… I had to grieve the loss of being the golden wonderful boy.

    Who knows what’s next for you! Everyone has it so different.

    Thanks!

  2. Bethany, thank you for your honesty and raw emotions that we all have felt in our relationships in a disagreement, or when we are not on the same page or life’s challenges that leave us with feeling these emotions. I am going to give this a try when I have some quiet time in the morning or late at night or during nap time for the kiddos. Thank you…hope you are enjoying your summer.

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