There is no better way to learn something than to live it. That’s what we call experience. Vicarious learning is good, but can have certain limitations. “I have experience” actually means, “I have had some troubles.”
For example, if I hire someone with experience, I hire a person that has personal exposure to failure. That person has messed things up in the past and has learned not to repeat those mistakes. Much of that person’s knowledge is probably learned vicariously (i.e. other people’s mistakes), but it is the personal failures that have provided the experiential learning. This is why people like to see an airline pilot with “a little gray around the temples.” It is assumed that such a pilot will have already used up any rookie mistakes and is experienced as possible. It is also why veteran combat soldiers look upon new recruits with apprehension. “Don’t do anything to get us killed.”
The first “F” word is failure. Failure is how we learn. None of us exit the womb, stand up, and begin walking. We all have to learn to flail our limbs about, then roll over, then scoot, then crawl or roll around before we can even begin to stand. Once we stand, we can then experience the falling down required for learning to walk. And fall we do, time and time again. It is very endearing to watch a child fall down over and over, because we instinctively know why they are doing it. We smile and laugh at each failure and then celebrate the success of the first steps.
At some stage, we stop appreciating failure and behave as if it is something to be avoided at all cost. Some folks develop an overarching fear of failure. Fear is the second “F” word. Certainly, as we get older and more responsible, some failures carry more weight. Some failures do need to be avoided at all cost. Airline pilots and soldiers know this. Nevertheless, we cannot continue to learn and grow without failure. Actually, it is failure that helps us realize our full potential.
God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. In our hearts and in our actions, we don’t keep the Ten Commandments very well. We fail. The law was given as a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). Actually, we don’t break the law so much as it breaks us. If we are honest, our lack of perfection compels us to seek out true perfection. Enter Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. “O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer” (The Felix Culpa).
So, let not your heart be troubled. Fear not. Your failures taught you how to walk and then to run. Let them lead you to everlasting life and peace as well. Let them heal your relationships. Let them show you your full potential in Jesus Christ. We are all called to be saints. There are no saints in Heaven without a past. There are no sinners on earth without a future. The Church is a spiritual hospital for sinners. That’s what God’s Word is for. That’s what the Sacrament of Reconciliation is for. That’s what the Bread of Life is for. We all fail. We all can be redeemed.