“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
1 Corinthians 15:55
Above is one of my favorite verses. The reflection comes after a long chapter detailing the effects of Jesus’ resurrection. And at the end of it, Paul concludes what we read above. Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting? The idea, of course, being that Jesus has removed the weight and consequences that we’ve always feared in death. He has taken away the sting of it through the eternal life he offers us.
Now here’s the thing. Ever since I became a Christian, I’ve never really questioned that. It has been this decade-long relief in my heart. Death has no victory in my life. I wouldn’t say I’m “unafraid” of death. I’m pretty sure if I faced a gunman or got into a horrible car accident or found out that I had cancer, my body and mind would quake with the same patterns of fear and terror that most people suffer and experience in these situations. But it doesn’t change my faith in God’s removal of death’s sting for me. What comes next can never, ever be a loss. I would be leaving this world for that one. Something less for something more.
So why is it that Jesus can remove the sting of death, but I refuse to let him remove the sting of failure? His promises of eternity aren’t more real than his promises to care for, prosper, and protect me in this life. He doesn’t make idle promises and he doesn’t do just part of what he says, he does all of it. So when he promises those things in the New Testament, why do I ignore them?
Failure is an everyday thing. I’m a teacher, for one. Every single day there’s a student I don’t quite reach. Maybe I missed the fact that they were feeling horrible because of something at home. Maybe my teaching just didn’t catch their attention that morning. Maybe my response to one of their questions was too sarcastic. I don’t know. But I know that every day carries failures with it, even as I work toward and fight for successes.
The same goes for my writing career. I work tirelessly, y’all. I really do. I write a ton every day and I’m doing my best to develop in a fickle craft that is amazingly rewarding at times and pseudo-depressing at others. I want to give you a glimpse at what the second step in this world so often looks like.
So… I finished a book. Technically, I’ve written two complete books, one nearly complete book, and a novella. But let’s focus on the first two for now. I finished Grey Harbor and I was particularly thrilled by it. So I started querying out. This process requires me to write a one-page sales pitch for my book and myself that agents read. If that sales pitch interests them, they ask to read my book. Here’s how Grey Harbor went:
Total # of Outright Rejections: 45
Total # of Close Rejections: 3 (Close can read as: they requested my book, read it, and then said no)
And some of those were painful. I had one agent suggest I rewrite the beginning of my book. I did. 90 pages of it. Then I resubmitted it. She read it for a few months, and ultimately couldn’t commit to representing it.
Second book. My fairy tale, When in Fancy, was a high-concept, fun story. I really thought it was clever enough to land me the agent I was looking for, but I found it occupying a more niche market/group than expected. So far:
Total # of Outright Rejections: 30
Total # of Close Rejections: 8 (Seriously painful ones this time around)
So I face failure every day. And there are some days where those numbers bounce and echo in my brain. There are some days where they’re the loudest voice. My failures seep into and taint everything. And I forget that Jesus can take the sting out of each and every one of them. I forget that his promises for me are deep and real. I forget that he’s the one who designed me with this love of reading and this love of writing. He did not give me some idle passion to draw me into moments of failure and weakness. He gave me a gift that he intended me to use for his kingdom. The crazy part is that, if I believe he’s telling the truth, then I don’t have to worry about an agent. I don’t have to fret or panic as the rejections gather in my inbox. I just have to keep working hard and remember God’s faithfulness in my life.
It’s hard to do that. I don’t want to do that. But I’m finding recently, it’s the best way to keep my head above water. So if I have any prayer for this weekend, it would be a reminder that Jesus has taken the sting out of more than just death. When, in John 10:10, he says, “I have come so that you may have life and life to the full,” I think he also means killing off some of our habits of beating ourselves up. So today, I look forward to the sting of my failures being a distant, harmless feeling.