By Theodosia Burress
Prior to religious life, I didn’t have much interest in fantasy books besides The Chronicles of Narnia series and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Since returning to lay life, (as a result of recommendations), I’ve read many books in this genre. Much to my surprise, I’ve discovered some meaningful stories with excellent characters.
I just read Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson, the 3rd volume of The Stormlight Archive. One of the things I now realize about fantasy (at least the fantasy that I have enjoyed) is that it explores questions of life in a creative way.* This gives my intellect and heart a new way to look at and process life experiences. I find this aspect of Sanderson’s work particularly appealing.
About 2/3 of the way through this book, one of the characters named Shallan is devastated by the events that have transpired in her life which culminate in a particular tragedy. To add to the pain, another character has told Shallan it would be better if she (Shallan) were dead. As Shallan mourns this event and reviews her life, she fears that this assessment is correct. She recounts all this to a character called Wit, to which he responds,
“You mostly failed. This is life. The longer you live, the more you fail. Failure is the mark of a life well-lived. In turn, the only way to live without failure is to be of no use to anyone.” (Pg 789)
This dialogue hit me like a ton of bricks. Lately I have compared myself to others or to an idealized picture of what “I should be.” I felt like a complete failure and wondered what was wrong with me. Circumstances flashed before me …
But is it really true that I’ve failed in these areas? And if they are failures, is that a negative thing?
Reading the above exchange in the book gave me a different perspective on failure. What does “failure” actually indicate? What conclusions should actually be drawn from “failing?”
What do I do with the “failures” in my life? Hate them? Ignore them? Pretend they don’t exist? Avoid potential future failure?
The conversation goes on, “Then live. And let your failures be a part of you.” (Pg 792)
Yikes! Do I want to do that? Can I? And how?
Shallan realizes that she needs “Forgiveness. For herself.” (Pg 793)
Later, Wit says, “It’s terrible…to have been hurt…but it’s okay to live on.”
You need to, “…accept being you.”
“You are worth protecting… it’s all right to hurt.”
The conversation ends with Wit saying, “Accept the pain, but don’t accept that you deserved it.” (Pg 794)
I needed to read these words and “hear” them about my situation. I needed permission to grieve my failures. I needed to realize that I had slipped into thinking I deserved pain or was being punished. Fortunately, this book provided me with the opportunity to recognize these lies so I could combat them.
A successful businessman had been previously bankrupt. Survivors of tragedies use the experience to recalibrate life and inspire others. The greatest sinners become the greatest saints. “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.” We “know” these truths, but they are easy to forget, aren’t they?
It is, as Wit says, terrible to have been hurt, to have experienced failure. But that is not what defines us. It is necessary to live on, and to do so with courage. Because failure isn’t the mark of a wasted life but of one well lived.
*Check out “On Fairy Stories” by Tolkien https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Fairy-Stories