“In the chapters to come, I speak often of my own mistakes – of wrong turns I have taken, of misreading of my own reality – for hidden in these moments are important clues to my own vocation. I do not feel despondent about my mistakes…though I grieve the pain they have sometimes caused others. Our lives are “experiments with truth” (to borrow the subtitle of Gandhi’s autobiography), and in an experiment negative results are at least as important as successes. I have no idea how I would have learned the truth about myself and my calling without the mistakes I have made…”
Writer, teacher, and activist Parker Palmer begins his book, Let Your Life Speak, by acknowledging that the path that led him to clarity about himself was not without detours. My guess is that most of us would rather reach our goals without going off track; success not failure, clarity not confusion, winning not losing, right turns not wrong ones, are our preferred course of travel. What could make more sense than wanting to get where we’re going without becoming lost?
Palmer’s “experiments with truth” have taught him that only when we fail to achieve our goals are we poised to learn what are arguably life’s most important lessons, humility and compassion. Humility, the down-to-earth acceptance of our strengths and weakness, and compassion, the loving embrace of our own and others less than ideal selves, are our raison d’etre, the reason for our being. When we measure the success of our lives by any other standard, we miss the most profound purpose of our existence.
The saying “God’s ways are not our ways” speaks to the importance of “the crooked path.” This does not mean there is Someone in the heavens pulling strings that result in our failure or confusion in order to bring us to our knees; rather, it names the truth that the only way to become our God-self, the sacred person we are meant to be, is by meeting face-to-face the limits of our willpower, efforts, and best intentions. These inner-resources are important for achieving our goals; however, it is not what we accomplish, but who we become that matters most.
If we accept its teaching, failure in its many forms – relational, professional, spiritual – can be the portal to our soul, the doorway through which we must pass if we are to discover and become our sacred selves.