I must say, it’s a bit weird being a failure.
Now, before you launch into: “but, but, but, but Eric, you aren’t a failure, how can you be? You're a middle class white dude who will never know true pain. Not to mention, you’re a brilliant thinker, engaging writer, and your kid, he’s like the best, and your wife, she's incredibly lovely and talented, and have you seen your pug, cause I have and…”
I’m going to stop you right there before you say something that weirds everyone out.
I realize in uttering the words “I’m a failure” so many things likely bubble up in you (and me) that it becomes next to impossible to not attempt to drown out all of these rather painful feelings with something along the lines of: “remember that dude you went to high school with who was a real jerk, yeah, me either, but I’m sure he still lives with his mom, so feel better about your own plight, right?!”
I find that whenever I feel terribly unsuccessful it's typically because I’ve stumbled into a process of sizing myself up in comparison to people my age who have accomplished far more with their Tuesdays than efficiently restocking the cereal aisle. In response, I often choose to peer down the other side of the mountain at everyone eating their own toenails in order to stay alive, as a way of silencing the anxiety I feel about my professional development, or lack thereof.
Just like you do whenever your Caribbean cruise is interrupted by Instagram evidence of someone else’s Mediterranean cruise and then you’re all like: “I’M SO UNSUCCESSFUL AND TERRIBLE, AND THIS BATHING SUIT LOOKS AWFUL ON ME, MAYBE I SHOULD TRY ADVOCARE??!!??!!” But then you recall that former professional Christian Eric Minton bags groceries with a masters degree and the ballooning pain in your chest starts to deflate until you once again remember that MARK ZUCKERBERG MADE FACEBOOK IN HIS DORM ROOM BEFORE DROPPING OUT OF HARVARD BECAUSE HE'S WAY BETTER THAN YOU.
In the midst of these stubborn anxieties we’re met, time and again, with some trite story about someone else who also endured hardship before being discovered, and going viral, and selling 1 million books, and going on tour because she just kept “creating her art” independent of the responses of other people because determination, or perseverance, or something else pithy you can squeeze into 140 characters.
Inevitably, their treatise ends with an arena-rock swell of emotion as they exhort you to also quit your day job and focus on your art because you have something
to the world.*
(*NOTE: It's so much more powerful when you type it this way.)
So you quit, and work at a grocery store, and toil, and sweat (literally, not figuratively), and endure a dressing down from a soccer mom in a Patagonia pull over because THIS IS THE THIRD TIME YOU HAVEN’T HAD THE RED LENTILS (pulls you in close) I WILL BURN THIS BUILDING DOWN IF I HAVE TO GO HOME AND DISAPPOINT MY 5-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER AGAIN BECAUSE IT’S ALL SHE EATS, AND YOU KNOW WHAT? I JUST WON’T GO HOME AGAIN, ARE YOU GUYS HIRING AND CAN I LIVE IN THE STOCK ROOM?!
and you write
and you write
and you write
and you write
and you wait
and you wait
and you wait
and you wait
For what? I'm not entirely sure: to go viral, maybe? To be discovered? For someone better at this than you to notice? For it to finally mean more than it did when you used to get paid for your thoughts on spirituality?
Until, in the midst of yet another 30 minute PBJ lunch break in your late model civic, you embrace, if only for a few seconds, the idea that this whole thing might not work out.
Like at all.
Personally, it's rather terrifying for me to consider that the music might never bother to swell during the “things are getting better” montage of my life as more and more and more people tearfully read my work and listen to my words and share them unashamedly for loved ones and their mom’s salon friends to ignore on Facebook.
It's one thing to come to the conclusion that various parts of your professional life might not materialize or develop in ways you always dreamed (this is what it means for everyone who didn't become professional-football-playing-astronaut-presidents to grow up), but it's quite another to come to terms with the death of almost everything you believed you were supposed to do and be.
Especially when you are, so to speak, a "man of the cloth".
“A key goal of parenting: to try to ensure a child grows up with no wish to become famous.”
-Alain de Botton
There is a concept within a small branch of family therapy known as “destructive entitlement”.
Simply put, many family therapists believe that humans, at birth, are entitled to both love and trust from their families of origin. Subsequently, when these things are then denied or haphazardly applied during childhood, individuals begin demanding love and trust from people who were never responsible to fulfill this void in the first place.
(enter Oprah, stage left.)
Thus, leaving scads of fully grown adults attempting to compensate for the lack of love and trust they experienced as kids by destructively extracting them from their children, their friends, their jobs, their bank accounts, the internet, and anyone with whom they happen to cross paths at the grocery store.
What’s destructive isn’t that we enter the world feeling entitled to relationships characterized by both love and trust, it’s that we frustratingly go seeking them out from people, institutions, and places that can’t ever deliver that for which we perpetually long. For instance, whenever people talk with me about how church just "doesn't do it for them," or they don't "feel" anything when they're there, or there's "nothing for my kids," or they don't seem to be "growing or learning anything," or they think "the music is terrible," I get it, truly, I used to work at one.
But at the same time, I don't.
Mainly, because church was never supposed to do anything for you in the first place, and was instead always (in it's best self) supposed to be an adjectival expression of a movement of people living lives of self-sacrificing meaning, even if the music backing their efforts is ear-splittingly terrible.
Just like your kids and their wavering abilities to field a ground ball effectively have nothing at all to do with whether or not you --a person who cannot manage to bend over without making a noise that sounds eerily similar to a box of roofing nails falling down a flight of stairs-- will ever be able to avoid the mistakes of your own parents when they incoherently yelled at you for the very same things.
At some point, for love and trust to make a rapid re-entry into the universe, many of the ways in which we have been living and ordering our lives must die. Not because they're always evil or inherently wrong or unjust, but simply because they often emit from a place of profound pain, fear, and anxiety. Meaning, if my only takeaway from the past several months helming a grocery register is that if people really knew who I was and what I'm capable of then they wouldn't be treating me like this, I only continue to perpetuate the idea that who I am and what I am is worthwhile solely because of what I can do and how much I can earn and how proud I can finally make my family.
This friends, is a lie, plain and simple.
The truth is, I am a person of worth and value simply because I exist.
The truth is, you are a person of worth and value simply because you exist.
Not because someone finally notices us, or pays us what we're worth, or calls us back, but because there is a fundamental sacredness to our bones and our breath. Sometimes the people who gave us life realize this, and pay attention to it, and remind us of it every time we fail and every time we succeed, other times they don't, but either way our responsibility is to enter into the world in order to proclaim that yes, of course things are broken and messy and terribly askew, but at the same time they sometimes aren't, and they certainly don't have to keep being so.
In my experience, what heals any of us (or all of us, if you like) isn't the good news that we're really terrible people who are begrudgingly loved by a God who strangely murdered his own son in order to let us move back into the basement, but that God entered the world in order to proclaim that even if the world puts him to death because his life and ideas seem strange and dangerous, he will never, ever, ever give up on it.
Even if he has to come back from the dead to get his point across.
Contrary to popular opinion, the way of Jesus isn't how we avoid failure and achieve personal success in order to convince more people of how great Chris Tomlin's God is, it's how we embrace and endure sometimes unending failure in order to reveal to everyone looking on from the cheap seats the beauty and inherent worth in all of us struggling for love and trust and grace and peace and resurrection.
It's incredibly boring to believe you and your God are worthwhile whenever failures eventually turn to laudable successes, who didn't see that coming? However, when a person continues stubbornly believing in God's, their own, and everyone else's worth when the clouds never part and the plane never pulls up out of its nosedive, they are what the Christian faith has, for years now, referred to as saints.
Because they are so beautifully, so compellingly rare.
Maybe what our world needs isn't more success, more wins, and more praise. Maybe, like reeling buffet patrons, our sagging stomachs have finally reached their limit, and now require the stark and prophetic witness of all the limping failures and threadbare saints to cleanse the pallets of our country and our weary souls.
*photo courtesy of Kevin Lau, Creative Commons