The song “I get knocked down but I get up again ...you’re never gonna keep me down” (Tubthumping by Chumbawamba) – as fun and catchy as it is – on the surface can feel like a vitriolic song that states that we are strong, because no matter how many knock backs we get, we will keep getting up. I do resonate with this, and yet often I feel like life has thrown curve balls at me, for which I would like to stay down and simply give up. Still, I have certainly learned more from choosing to get back up. There’s an emptiness in lost dreams and disappointments that is hard to escape, but again I am learning that is is more about the way we view the things that happen to us and around us more that the actual events. For me a “statement” that can and has been a “limiting belief” in my life is … “I am a failure.” It is easy to start blaming circumstances, other people, the fact that “life sucks” or even God for where we find ourselves or what we don’t have, our lost dreams, our disappointments, our failed “salvation projects.” But instead I have chosen to sing, “you’re never gonna keep me down”... with an English accent, and try to continue on being brave, or maybe listening to wise people like Nelson Mandela when he says,
“Don’t judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”
There are times when this is a great help.
But when we look deeply into the silly song I began with, we see that the song is loosely based around a short story about a boy who beat all the odds in life and never let things get him down. Yet, the approach to “keeping on” reads like it is one big night on the town, where the singer seems quite happy about the fact that he keeps getting knocked down, because he is so drunk on whiskey. I am not passing judgement here, I am simply reminded that a lot of the times when we get knocked down in life, we can’t blame anyone but ourselves, our own poor choices, our mess ups. This reminds me that I have probably deserved at times to get knocked down, that there are many times when the failure lies squarely on my shoulders.
I was encouraged as I sat with a dear friend a while ago as he shared… “I desperately wanted to be empty so Jesus could fill me, but I never expected He would really do it.” We laughed together and I appreciated his honesty as we reflected on the past 30 years of ministry and where we are, where we thought we would have been by now, the “failed salvations projects” as we have sought to serve Him, but have found ourselves lacking and needing to come to His feet again, simply to surrender and acknowledge our emptiness.
Another colleague said to me recently, “There is no such thing as failure...only feedback” (Brett White, 2015)
Viewing failure as feedback is probably really important, but it is still really hard. The pragmatist in me says, “let’s be honest and call it what it is.” But Brett is also talking about a mindset here. Whether you want to use the word “failure” or “feedback,” the mindset is really important. The scary thing for me is whose “feedback” are we listening to? Richard Rohr gives us another “f” word. He would call this “falling” and says that somewhere in our western mindset we have lost the spiritual value of “falling.” In fact, the “falling” is actually necessary for any sort of growth.
“We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. That might just be the central message of how spiritual growth happens: yet nothing in us wants to believe it” (R. Rohr, ‘Falling Upward”, pg XXII)
It is one thing to get back up again in your own strength and sing with gusto, because you are so strong and amazing or maybe just plain stubborn. It is quite another to see that when we are knocked down through life’s events, some beyond our control or some due to our own wrong choices, it is there in the “falling” that we often find a new truth from God’s perspective. In fact it is only because of the “falling” that we can discover His truth.
It is a change in mindset, a God-set, if you will. This mindset change is so freeing. He changes our perspective and we are not the same again. The courage comes in getting back up again and choosing to view each life event that has or hasn’t happened in a way that we might have otherwise viewed as a “failure” as a chance for growth and transformation to be more like Him.
“The genius of the gospel is that it included the problem inside the solution. The falling became the standing. The stumbling became the finding. The dying became the rising. The raft became the shore.” (R Rohr, “Falling Upward. Pg 159)
2 Corinthians 12: 10 – “It is when I am weak, He is strong.” I get knocked down, and He helps me get back up and I am stronger for the experience. Thank you, God, for in my “falling” your feedback says ... I can be stronger for it because I surrender to who You are and what You have done.