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Learning from Failure Is Part of the Plan

By Adam C. Olson

Church Magazines

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    Four lessons we can learn from favorite “fails” in the scriptures.

    young adult woman

    A good portion of the internet seems to be dedicated to celebrating the “epic fail”—from Pinterest fails to videos of botched backflips. Maybe we simply crave to know that we’re not alone when our best efforts don’t seem good enough. Well, there’s another way to know.

    If you feel like your days are filled with failure, take heart from the scriptures. They are full of the less-than-perfect efforts of some pretty amazing people. Here are just a few of their lessons that can help you realize you’re probably doing better than you think you are.

    1. Faith doesn’t prevent failure; it makes it meaningful.

    Nephi was full of faith as he and his brothers went back for the plates of brass, but that didn’t keep them from failing miserably—twice (see 1 Nephi 3). But his faith in the face of failure helped turn his failure into preparation for success. Did earlier failed encounters with Laban help prepare Nephi to recognize him, impersonate him, find his house, and make it out with the sacred records? We don’t know for certain. But we do know that our future success is often built on top of past failures.

    2. God anticipated our failures and planned ahead.

    After Joseph Smith learned that the 116 pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript were missing, he cried, “All is lost!”1 He knew he had failed. He knew he would be rebuked and possibly even cast off. And yet all was not lost. God had anticipated Joseph’s failure nearly 2,000 years earlier and was prepared for it.

    Similarly, God anticipated our failures long before the world was created.2 He is able to turn even our mistakes into blessings (see Romans 8:28). And He provided a Savior so that when our failures involve sin, we can repent, allowing us to “learn from [our] experience without being condemned by it.”3

    3. Don’t give up; we don’t always see our success.

    Abinadi was called to preach repentance to the people. If Abinadi measured his success based on the number of people who repented, he may have died believing he was an utter failure. The first time he warned the people of King Noah to repent, he was rejected and barely escaped with his life. (See Mosiah 11:20–29.) Instead of giving up, he tried again, knowing he could be killed—and he was.

    But because he didn’t give up, the people did eventually repent (see Mosiah 21:33). What’s more, Alma was converted, taught and baptized many, and organized the Church among the Nephites. Alma’s descendants led the Church, and sometimes the nation, until the coming of Jesus Christ, converting thousands, including most of the Lamanites (see Helaman 5:50). One person who doesn’t give up in the face of failure can make an incredible difference.

    4. Sometimes solving the problem is less important than learning from it.

    Oliver Granger was accustomed to having the authority to get things done. Before joining the Church in the 1830s, he had been a county sheriff, a colonel in the militia, and a licensed exhorter in his church. After joining, he served two missions and was a member of the Kirtland high council. But then Joseph Smith gave Oliver the almost impossible task of settling the business affairs of Church leaders who had been driven out of Kirtland.4

    Feeling like a failure, Oliver went to Joseph and heard the Lord say, “I remember my servant Oliver Granger; … and when he falls he shall rise again, for his sacrifice shall be more sacred unto me than his increase” (D&C 117:12–13). From Oliver, we learn that the result God is looking for is not always for us to come up with the right solution to our challenges, but for us to grow from facing them.

    Progress can be messy

    We are here to learn and grow, but growth doesn’t come without opposition. We all make mistakes, said Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, but “our destiny is not determined by the number of times we stumble but by the number of times we rise up, dust ourselves off, and move forward.”5

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    Notes

    1. 1.

      See “Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845,” book 7, pages 5–6. For more lessons from this experience, see Keith W. Perkins, “Thou Art Still Chosen,” Ensign, Jan. 1993, 14–19.

    2. 2.

      Joseph later taught: “The great Jehovah contemplated the whole of the events connected with the earth, pertaining to the plan of salvation, before it rolled into existence. … He knows the situation of both the living and the dead, and has made ample provision for their redemption” (in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 406–7).

    3. 3.

      Bruce C. Hafen, “The Atonement: All for All,” Liahona, May 2004, 97.

    4. 4.

      See Boyd K. Packer, “The Least of These,” Liahona, Nov. 2004, 86–88; see also The Joseph Smith Papers, History, 1838–1856, volume B–1 [1 September 1834–2 November 1838], 837.

    5. 5.

      Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “You Can Do It Now!” Liahona, Nov. 2013, 55.