Last year, I married the love of my life at the age of 41. At the reception, my father made a speech of all the things that made him proud to call me his daughter, concluding with a most unexpected compliment:
“The thing about Denise that amazes me most is just how many mistakes she’s made over the course of her life. I’ve never known anyone as tenacious and failure-
prone as my daughter. And yet, somehow, someway, she always lands on her feet. If I were to pick one thing that makes me proudest to call her my daughter, that would be it.”
Most brides would be aghast at such a statement from their father, but not me. Nor were my friends and family members, who nodded in agreement. Instead of “failure-prone,” others used euphemisms like “fearless” and “bold,” but to me, they’re two sides of the same coin. You can’t fail unless you try, and you can’t fail repeatedly unless you keep trying.
To be clear, I hate failing. I hate it so much that I do all I can to avoid it. Before any public appearance, I prepare like the lawyer I was trained to be; practice to the point of memorization; and hire the best coaches I can afford. My goal is to be excellent in all that I do, and yet, I still fail. The sting of failure hurts every time. Thankfully, God, in His great mercy, has taught me to evaluate my failures through His paradigm of success, rather than the world’s.
For most of my life, I drew conclusions about myself based on the outcomes of my efforts. If I won, I was a “success;” if I lost, I was a “failure.” My emotions rose and fell accordingly, as I tied my self-worth to the world’s opinion of me. I rode this emotional roller coaster for years, and it was exhausting, even in the “winningest” periods of my life. It also made me vulnerable to the Enemy, as I wondered how anyone who’d failed as much as I had could be considered “more than a conqueror,” a “victor,” or an “overcomer.”
In the midst of a particularly painful three-year losing streak—marked by a failed business venture, broken relationships, and a lack of intimacy with God—a friend registered me for an eight-day silent spiritual retreat. She hoped God would give me the rest I so badly needed. I spent the first four days of the retreat asking God why I couldn’t seem to climb out of the pit I’d found myself in.
On day five, God responded through His word in Revelation 3:7-8, reminding me that: 1) obedience to Him ultimately determines my success in His eyes, and 2) outcomes are ultimately in His hands. His affirmation of my own weakness in light of His omnipotence was a much-needed relief; I gave myself permission to stop striving. God assured me that He was with me in the pit (Matthew 28:20), that He still had a marvelous plan for my life (Jeremiah 29:11-13), and that my love for Him and His children were the only metrics of success that mattered.
These truths emboldened me to take the next step I had felt God urging me to take for over a decade: running for public office against an incumbent US Congressman, in one of the most high-profile races in the nation. Previously, the fear of failing in such a big and public way kept me out of the arena. This time, however, I was determined to trust Him with the outcome of the race, and simply obey.
Over the course of our campaign, we engaged hundreds of volunteers and donors, activated a social media platform that reached thousands, and shared our positive, encouraging message through tv ads that reached over a million viewers. On Sunday mornings, I invited everyone on my team to join me for church and brunch, prior to walking precincts together. People who’d never stepped foot in a church before joined us, and others came to our Tuesday morning prayer sessions at the office. By the end of the campaign, God’s influence was evident in the hearts of those who had rededicated their lives or made first-time commitments to Him. It was awesome.
Nevertheless, we lost. My fears of failing in a big, public way came true. But this time, my perspective on both the process and outcome was shaped by God, instead of the world. When election returns indicated that a loss was imminent, God gave me an opportunity to publicly honor my opponent, my campaign staff and volunteers, and most importantly, Jesus - in every local media outlet, before thousands of viewers. My failure became a platform for God and His glory, which in His eyes, amounted to a success.
Obviously, I’d have preferred a win that night. But I’ve learned that true success can look like failure, and failure can look like success. Neither outcome affects my identity in Christ or the certainty of God’s promises for my life. Sometimes, failure presents more opportunities to give God glory than success would have. When that’s the case, I’ve learned to pray for the former, over the latter.
Denise Gitsham Jones is an attorney and strategic communications consultant who loves to read, write, and run. She recently completed her first Ironman, as well as a six-city tour as a panelist with Propel Women. Denise is married to fellow attorney, Josh, and together, they live in Solana Beach, California, with their golden retriever Jack. Connect with her on Instagram