Originality and Failure

The thought of creating always brings a sense of trepidation. Even as I type this short prose on my laptop, I am filled with consternation. Why do I have any fear over writing a short article? Perhaps the source of unease is from eating that day-old sandwich too quickly which now, an hour later, is distracting me. Or maybe there are just too many brilliant thoughts inundating my mind. More likely, it is that all-too-familiar fear of failure. As many have already discovered, failure should not prevent anyone from moving forward. In fact, when an endeavor results in what seems like failure, it ought to be embraced as being part of the process to create or become something original.

When he was given a solid block of marble, Michelangelo could have considered the risk that he might fail, saying while shrinking back, “It really is a perfect piece of stone anyway.” Instead, though he knew that one wrong move could ruin the statue-in-process, he moved forward with the confidence that he could see the statue within the stone and created works such as his David sculpture. As perfect as this masterpiece appears at first glance, however, it becomes evident that the body parts of the statue are disproportionate—for instance, the right hand is larger than the left. This was a technique Michelangelo intentionally used to give the figure a dynamic look, making it unique just as the physical features of each individual truly are.

I have long understood the idea that imperfection and failure do not disqualify me from being a good musician, speaker, leader, or human being. Albeit this fear has continually kept me from doing, well, just about anything—and all the while, the choice is mine whether to give in to fear or to live in victory. I was again faced with this choice when I went on a two-month trip to the Dominican Republic and Haiti with with a team of 20 other people last December. This presented a number of challenges: safety, unity, and uncertainty of what the conditions would be like in La Hispaniola Island, to name a few. Reality, it seems, often goes beyond even one’s most vivid imagination, and I learned that firsthand when the circumstances of our outreach turned out much worse than I anticipated.

We had arrived fully prepared to teach english, run health classes, and hold events in different parks, most of these events fell through due to issues beyond our control. Problems with our team’s physical health began within the first week. My hand blew up like an inflated latex glove when I was stung by a bee. The sting was incurred while clearing away foliage at the YWAM base where our team was staying in Azua, DR. Another teammate was the recipient of several such bee stings. Thankfully, her reaction was not as severe as mine. In the middle of our “open air” events in the park, the electricity would spontaneously cut out and we could not attract a large crowd. Such challenges are easy enough to endure, but the worst was yet to come. About one month into the trip, the team travelled to Haiti. Within days, virtually the whole team was overtaken by vomiting and diarrhea. These setbacks made it extremely difficult to be effectively involved in the work projects and revival meetings we were scheduled to help with. Complicating matters even further was the sad reality that hospitals in Haiti are poorly-equipped to handle malignant illness.

Everything we had planned turned out to be either completely different than what we expected or fell apart entirely. I instinctively wondered, “Was all of this a complete waste of time?” Much of what we came to do, we simply did not do. The remainder of our time in Haiti was cut short due to illness. Yet at the same time, the trip was immensely successful. The way the team met each other’s needs and encouraged one another in the midst of sickness was a living example of the Church in action not only to ourselves but to those around us. As soon as a team member recovered, he or she was back in action immediately. When technical problems arose, as they frequently did, everyone quickly adapted and kept the focus on caring for the people we were there to minister to. In that way, our work there was incredibly engineered, as only God can do. Through word and deed, the life-giving message Jesus offers was spread either through organized functions or individual connections.

Originality is often accompanied by failure. As C.S. Lewis writes, perfection is not the first step, for “Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas, if you simply try to tell the truth…you will…become original without ever having noticed it… Give up yourself, and you will find your real self.” God did not wait for us to adjust our behavior to save us (see Romans 5:8). To walk in the freedom He promises, we must give up trying to make ourselves into something original and let God take over the endeavor no matter how messy it appears. We do not have the whole picture, but we must trust that God does. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, ESV). This is not some quaint platitude, this is the cost of becoming the true original you were made to be.

Ready to make the jump.

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