3 Lessons I’m Learning About Airplanes That Don’t Get Off the Ground

I have a lot of friends who are “high-capacity achievers”.  I look at them and they are wise and talented, and smart, and “tada!” they have a lot of seemingly easy sucess…kind of like Michelle Obama or Justin Bieber.  That would not be me.

The other day I wrote about what it takes to build an airplane (like my friend, Gayle).  You know, like what it takes to achieve any humongous goal that seems crazy and beyond possibility without divine intervention.

Friday morning as I was walking home through our snowy neighborhood from the coffee shop where I write, I got to thinking back over this past year, 2012 and two “airplanes” that I set out to build.  They didn’t crash and burn.  They never even got off the ground!  I felt tears sting my eyes (hoping they wouldn’t freeze on my cheeks) as I re-lived my deep, deep disappointment at these “failures”.


One was a fund raiser for starving kids in Africa.  I had worked with a team and prayed for 200 contributors.  We got about 15.  The other was a writing submission that was important to me.  It was rejected without feedback. I had a bunch of airplanes that soared in 2012, but, like most of us, it’s easy to obsess about those that didn’t.

I had prayed fervently about both.  I thought both would honor God.  I worked really hard, and did my part as best I could.  I had a team of truth-tellers and consultants for both.  I broke them down into smaller segments.  I thought I followed all the right steps.  But they both failed.  Miserably.

So I, like you (if you’ve failed at anything), have been trying to figure out “What now?” Here are some of the questions I’m asking:

Were these the wrong dreams? Or just the wrong time?

Is there anything I’d do differently if I tried to build these same two airplanes again?

What is God up to that I don’t know or don’t see right now?

How can I “fail forward”?

Here’s some of what I’m learning about airplanes that don’t get off the ground, and God…

1.  He defines success. I have the date of one of these “failures” in my Bible next to Proverbs 19:26 that says “Many are the plans in a human heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

And then there’s Isaiah 55:
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

There’s a lot we don’t understand about God.  Yep, once again I have to admit, He’s God and I’m not. (sad that I have to keep reminding myself of that!)

2.  He refines.  Failure can either drive me away from God with hands thrown up in the air, frustrated, or draw me close as I strain to hear His voice, to know His mind and heart better so that I might refine my goals or my approach.

3.  He’s not done.  “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” (Phil. 1:6)  It’s more important that God is continuing His good work IN me than working FOR me to accomplish my plans.  

None of that means I’m done with setting goals.  It just means I’m listening hard for the way God may refine them and thanking Him that He’s not done with me yet.  Someone once said to D.L. Moody “The world has yet to see what God will do with and for and through and in and by the man who is fully consecrated to Him.”  I trust that goes for women too.

What have you learned from your failures?

4 thoughts on “3 Lessons I’m Learning About Airplanes That Don’t Get Off the Ground

  1. Failure is so hard to understand sometimes. Especially when you feel like these were things you felt led to do. The advice I would give you is something Jon Acuff says “fail at something that matters.” You wanted 200 contributors to help with the Africa, but you got 15. Celebrate the 15! As you know, EVERY little bit helps when trying to solve the hunger problem in our world. Also, it took guts to submit your work. It is NOT easy. But you did it!! So you need to celebrate that. Where else can you submit your work to? I continue to hear stories of authors (Michael Hyatt, Andy Andrews, Seth Godin, and the list goes on and on who had HUNDREDS of rejections before getting their work published.) That always gives me hope.

    Now, think about what you can learn from both of these situations. What can you refine? What can you do differently next time? And try not to look at these as failures. If you had had these dreams and you did nothing at all with them, then you failed. But, you tried and did something. That is not failure at all! Keep pushing forward.


  2. I’ve learned two things from failure. One is, “Never give up.” The other is, “Maybe you want to give up on this one.” Knowing the difference is the important part.


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