'When you have your health, you have everything. When you do not have your health, nothing else matters at all.'
~ Augusten Burroughs
How can we speak of success without looking at its counterpart - failure? Burroughs seems to imply that health in and of itself is success. Does this then mean that sickness is failure?
Silly, right? We would never explicitly accuse a sick person of being a failure because they are sick…...would we? Certainly this is not what Burroughs is suggesting - he’s saying what we all know - it is very hard to be sick, and when we are well we often take our health for granted. He’s asking us to wake up and be grateful.
Kate Bowler has written a lovely book called “Everything Happens For A Reason And Other Lies I’ve Loved” that challenges us to REALLY look at our perspective on sickness and health. Kate is an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School, a graduate of Yale Divinity School and Duke University. Unless you are a Tarheels fan, Kate’s school resume alone reeks of success. She has published a book on “the prosperity gospel” called “Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel”. Again, success.
In case the term “prosperity gospel” doesn’t mean much to you, here is how Kate describes it, “The prosperity gospel is a theodicy, an explanation for the problem of evil…[it] looks at the world as it is and promises a solution. It guarantees that faith will always make a way.” (xiii, Everything Happens For A Reason)
And in the midst of living her big dream life - great job, married to her high school sweetheart, and mother of a toddler - her life was nothing BUT possibility. Until the day she was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Is Kate Bowler a failure? By all objective standards, she is not. But man, you should hear some of the crazy things people said to her about her cancer. All well-intended but it seemed like EVERYONE wanted to offer her an explanation, a promise of hope, a potential beat-the-odds-miracle if only she drank this kind of juice or prayed this kind of prayer or believed with all her heart.
Truth be told, in our world, failure is verboten. Failure, when it happens, is a reason to blame, judge, hide and run from - which I think it is why we “explain”. If we are going to wrangle with the meaning of success, we might want to start with dismantling our fear of failure.
Are you afraid of failure? Why or why not? What would be the worst failure you could imagine?