Failure Is An Option

In the fall of 2008 on a military base in the middle of North Carolina, a worn-out soldier lost what little common sense he had left and decided that trying to become a Green Beret might prove a fun thing to do. That worn-out soldier was me.

How do I sum up the twenty-four days of unspeakable misery called Special Forces Selection and Assessment (or just “Selection”)? I don’t know since I only lasted nine days.

The bus driver kicked us off the bus halfway to Camp Mackall with our seventy-five pound rucksacks, and then he drove off. The Special Forces Cadre (French for “man who loves to inflict pain on weaklings”) offered the following detailed instructions: “Walk down the road until I tell you to stop.” By “road,” Sergeant Pain meant the ten-foot-wide path of knee-high sand that meandered into the wilderness. Approximately five and a half hours later, I hobbled into camp with seven blisters on my feet and my dignity dragging in the sand behind me.

Selection physically punishes candidates to determine who has the mental toughness to perform extraordinary missions for the Army. But, after finishing dead last in every event Sergeant Pain put me through, I realized that I had bigger problems than mental toughness. On my final day, Pain introduced us to log-and-rifle training. “Stand in front of a log as thick as a telephone pole. Pick up the pole. Raise it over your heads. Repeat until I tell you to stop.”

During this ruthless activity, soldiers would throw up in the workout pit and Pain provided immediate assistance: he made them scoop up their puke (“Do not contaminate the workout pit, candidate!”) and dispose of it in the nearby woods before making them return to the pole. Right about the point when we started to whine for mommy, he took us to a larger field for another two hours, where we performed rifle exercises. At first, I considered the differences. An eighty-pound pole versus an eight-pound rifle? Sounds like an improvement, right? To better understand how foolish this logic is, hold a watermelon over your head for two hours.

Anyway, right about the point that a genuine fire truck drove onto the field and sprayed copious amounts of water on our faces while we laid in the mud doing scissor kicks, I raised a hand and said the dreaded words: “I quit.”

Sitting in the back of Sergeant Pain’s truck, I cried like Jimmy Swaggart on Confession Day. For over a year, I had been clinging to one idea: the Lord had brought me to Selection for a purpose. Now, with only my failure as company, I thought of this verse: “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). I thought I always knew what that verse meant: people make plans for their future, but the details of how they get there are the Lord’s job. But in light of my recent experience, it seemed the meaning was that a man can determine where he wants to go, but the Lord may have different ideas about where he will actually end up. I wiped my eyes and realized how mistaken I was. I had planned to become a Green Beret, but my steps led me somewhere quite different.

So, what did God do? Why did He lead me somewhere other than graduation day?

He let me go so I could taste failure.

Looking back, my attempt to become one of the Special Forces Elite was one of the most important things I ever did. Eager to do what I felt was God’s will, I learned to take a risk and experience the immeasurable value that comes from hard failure.

Some of you wrestle daily with choices about which job to take, which school to attend or whether or not six is the right number of children to have. Rick Warren wrote in The Purpose-Driven Life, “God is more interested in who you are than what you do.” God weighs motives. Consider Proverbs 16:2: “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD.” So, analyze why you want to take the higher-paying job or attend the more prestigious school or try out for the Green Beret program.

This is my advice. Seek God. Take risks. Embrace failure. Enjoy success (yes, in that order).

However, if you want more than six children, I personally recommend counselling and medication.

Pastor Scott