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Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 9th August 2020.

A few thoughts today about ‘Success’ and ‘Failure’.

It is human nature that we all want to succeed in life and that we all hate failure. First, a few thoughts about failure.

Sometimes we can fail to do things by simply not trying. This may be due to lack of confidence, or lack of time, or lack of sufficient motivation. Sometimes, we do in fact try, but the outcome is not what we expect or hope for. This may be due to lack of skill or lack of determination or lack of perseverance.

If we really want to achieve something, we have to regard failure as not being an option. We have to put in as much effort as is needed to get there, without giving up. An extreme example of never giving up would be the inventor Thomas Edison, who produced a usable alkaline storage battery after 10,000 failed attempts. Another example would be the American virologist, Jonas Salk, who finally made a successful vaccine for polio, after making two hundred vaccines that did not work. He started work on a vaccine in 1951, and his final version was approved for general use in 1955. Salk refused to accept the word “failure”. He said rather that he had discovered two hundred ways how not to vaccinate against polio. Let’s hope that the scientists currently working on a Covid-19 vaccine will find a workable vaccine a lot quicker!

Success can mean many things. It can mean achieving all the things we have ever wanted to do, for example, gaining a qualification or visiting a special place, or learning to play an instrument, or achieving success in sport. It can mean developing a successful business, or having a happy family life. But to some people success can mean something as simple as finding enough food to feed themselves and their family for the day. That kind of puts into perspective the ambitions of those of us who think of ourselves as reasonably well-off or ‘successful’.

How do we measure success? Is it by the type of car we drive or the size of the house we live in, or the size of our income? What would Jesus think? Jesus was not concerned about the outward signs and trappings of success, and tended not to spend much time with the wealthy, but rather with the poor and meek.

If we look at the spiritual side of life, success is not about material things, but about rightness with God and our neighbour. It is not about what we have succeeded in doing for ourselves, but about what we have succeeded in doing for others. Someone who has succeeded in both ways is the Microsoft founder, Bill Gates. He has certainly made a success for himself in business, but he has also given billions of dollars to develop education and science and also to eradicate famine and disease in Third World countries.

There are many people today who have not achieved great material success in life, yet their dedication to serving others has had its own successes. Our NHS nurses (not the highest paid people in the land) and the doctors with whom they work, treating Covid sufferers back to health, are a topical example of success. Their success in treating patients who are able to return to their homes and families after days or weeks in hospital must be very gratifying to them. Success is not measured by how much they earn, but by how many people they help to recover from the virus.

But to return to failure, we mustn’t worry if we don’t always get it right. Better to try and fail, than not to try at all. Winston Churchill said, ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.’ I am sure God doesn’t mark us down for failing, but delights that we make the effort. I used the following poem in a sermon a few years ago. Some of you reading this may recall it. It is inscribed on a memorial in Eyam churchyard in Derbyshire, in memory of Harry Bagshaw, who died in 1927, and who used to play cricket for Derbyshire and the MCC. When I first read the poem on the memorial on a visit to Eyam several years ago, I thought it sounded like the kind of verse Rudyard Kipling would write (when he wasn’t busy baking cakes!), but in fact it was written by an American sportswriter called Grantland Rice, who died in 1954. The poem inscribed on the memorial reads:

For when the one great scorer comes
To write against your name,
He marks – not that you won or lost –
But how you played the game.

May God grant you many successes, and the grace and peace to cope with your failures.

Fr. Ray