Failure Makes You a Winner
Article by Christine Carter (2013)
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What is the Science?

No life is free from adversity and struggle. Yet what defines a person or community is not just the adversity experienced, but the reaction to that adversity. Those with grit persist through setbacks and failures until they achieve their long-term goals. Grit can help us get through a long day or a tough period of life. Studies show that while innate skill is important, grit is actually a better predictor of performance. A high amount of grit can make up for little skill, but without grit no amount of skill will see you through the tough times. While the jury is still out as to how to teach grit, it does not appear to be a fixed personality trait. In other words, we can learn to be grittier as we learn to cope with the difficulties that come our way.

What is the Theology?

Grit can be an important component in a Christian’s life and within a Christian community. While pastors should avoid putting grit into moral terms (those who have it are “good” and those who do not are “bad”), they can still encourage grit as parishioners face difficulties in life. However, Christians must also see a place for the Holy Spirit in grit. Just as Jesus spent time in prayer before his arrest and, ultimately, crucifixion, so also Christians should spend time in prayer as they face difficulties. Just as the disciples spent time praying as they faced difficulties after the ascension of Jesus, so also Christian communities can pray together, in expectation that the Spirit will come upon them.

Pastors can use the research on grit as they discuss stories of gritty people in the Bible and Christian tradition. They might look at Joseph, Ruth, Esther, Elijah, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Paul, or John. They can lead their congregation through Psalms such as Psalm 3 or Psalm 55. They might even tell the stories of gritty Christians from the past, such as Polycarp or Harriet Tubman, or stories of members of their community that display Spirit-filled grit.

Grit: Perseverance and passion for long term goals.
“It is grit that makes our heroes face down their dragons and persist in the face of difficulty, setbacks, failure, and fear.” – Christine Carter

What to Consider

  • How have you responded to adversity in your life? Has grit been a factor? What other attributes or influences shaped your response?
  • What are some stories of people in your community who have succeeded despite adversity? Where do you see grit in their stories?
  • What other things beside grit are necessary to persevere through adversity?
  • Do you believe that grit is a fixed attribute or something that can be taught and learned?
  • What is the place of the Spirit in both developing grit and in persisting through difficult times to fulfil the long term goals for which we are passionate.

How to go Deeper

  • Start support groups to help people encourage each other as they face difficulties that require grit. These might include AA, men’s or women’s groups, life stage groups, divorce support groups, or more general small groups.
  • Grit means facing emotions and difficult circumstances, not suppressing them. Develop a safe place to mourn difficulties and losses in life. Begin by praying laments such as Psalm 79. You might even try preaching through Lamentations.
  • Preach a series on gritty persons in the Bible. Invite congregants to follow the model of Joseph or Daniel. Don’t forget to emphasize the role of God in empowering them to persist.

Relevant Scripture

All references in parenthesis refer to Lectionary readings. For more information on what the Lectionary is, please click here. For additional Lectionary resources click here.

Related Research

Four Keys to Well Being

Building Resilience

Angela Duckworth on Passion, Grit and Success

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

What’s Wrong with Grit?

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About the Author:

Zach is currently a PhD student at Fuller Theological Seminary researching the role of leaders in congregational change. His calling in life is to train and equip pastors to faithfully lead local congregations. When not studying, he'll most likely be watching Sporting Kansas City score goals or hiking with his wife and two kids.

7 Comments

  1. Weabz April 12, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    Keyword: prayer

  2. JarrodCraw April 12, 2017 at 6:22 pm

    I am glad to see that there is a stress in this article on the Holy Spirit. without reliance on Him, I wonder, would we ever have real, sustaining, willing-to-endure hardships grit? I also think that this could be connected to the work of sanctification and becoming more like Christ: even when we fall, God still sees us in Jesus, so we get back up and try again.

  3. aidenkang May 18, 2017 at 7:34 pm

    Reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s book David & Goliath.

  4. Thomas June 22, 2017 at 9:33 pm

    In a culture that too quickly dismisses failure and avoids it all costs, this article helps articulate the growth and richness a good failure can provide. Thanks!

  5. matt@ncstudycenter.org June 29, 2017 at 8:43 pm

    The “science” section here resonates well with the biblical theme: Christ is at work in our weakness

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