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reason, possibility, and failure

January 19, 2012
Johan Khalilian’s mission in life is to “help people dream great dreams and foster the courage to live them out.” Khalilian is from Humboldt Park Chicago, a neighborhood known for its violence and crime. Ignoring the voices that told him he would not amount to anything, Khalilian overcame. He persevered. He dreamed and risked and now has become a voice of life to a generation starving for heroes.A friend of mine recently sent me a short talk by Khalilian entitled Voices. You can watch it below.

In this talk to young people, Johan Khalilian describes two different voices: the voice of reason or reality and voice of possibility. The voice of reason states what is. It doesn’t have an imagination. It cannot see possibility nor does it dream. On the other hand, the voice of possibility dreams and speaks into existence what could be. The voice of possibility doesn’t ignore reality but hopes for something better. The voice of reason tells why not and the voice of possibility tells why you should.

For a time, Khalilian listened to the voice of reason. At two separate times in his life, he was told that he didn’t have what it took. That he wouldn’t amount to anything. These people, speaking the voice of reason, didn’t see potential, only barriers. They saw someone who didn’t have the commitment or intellect to rise above the future promised and realized by so many in that forgotten neighborhood in Chicago. He couldn’t risk. He didn’t believe in himself. He was convinced he had nothing to offer.

This all changed when Khalilian learned to “tune out” the voices that tried to stifle him. Instead he listened to the voice of possibility. A voice that said that he was better than his present reality.

Let me be clear. I love Khalilian’s message. It’s inspiring. I love that he is working diligently to drown the voices that discourage to help others imagine what is possible. I love that he encourages us to ignore those who have reinforced, sometimes violently, what most of us believe to be true – we are nothing and, given an opportunity, we will fail.

Though I appreciate and have been personally encouraged by Khalilian’s message, I do not think it goes far enough. It does not address what all of us, no matter how optimistic or hopeful will experience: failure. We have all failed and will continue to do so.

What are we to do when we fail?
The voice of possibility is not enough in the midst of failure. It may be sufficient for a time or for an individual who is particularly resilient, but, experience enough failure, it will begin to define you and quiet the voice of possibility. Failure can narrow one’s vision for the future. We need an outside voice that transcends our own power and ability.

God’s voice must be the loudest in midst of failure.
In the midst of failure, God doesn’t shame nor does he say that if we learn from our mistakes that we’ll overcome. In the midst of failure, God tells his people to listen to the Gospel.

Failure can make us feel like we’re the only one in the universe. Failure can be a vital blow to our identity. It tells us that we were the stupid one that tried by didn’t quite make it. Failure makes us believe that we are the center of the world and that everyone sees our brokenness.

The Gospel tells us we are loved despite our botched efforts. More importantly, the Gospel makes us realize that we are not the center of universe but rather God and his purposes are. The Gospel invites to deny our mission and step into God’s work of bring life into death. The Gospel opens our imagination to a richer future than we could ever dream, a future where God is redeeming all things.

The voice of Gospel changes the way we see and experience failure. Listening to the Gospel in the midst of failure protects our identity, reminds us our future is tied to God’s purposes not our efforts, and empowers us to keep participating in God’s purposes because they will not be overcome.

Listen to the voice of possibility, but when it fails you, and you find yourself a failure, hear the voice of God say, I will never leave you.

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