Prophecy, Fulfill Thyself

I’ve been watching Failure Club online lately. It’s a short, ongoing documentary series that depicts a group of people supporting each other as they try to fulfill a potentially outrageous goal for themselves. They call it Failure Club because they’re acknowledging that, along the way, they’re going to fail, probably numerous times, and they’re trying to negate the stigma of that.

In the most recent episode, Meg, the gal who wants to do stand-up comedy, ends up invited by her boss to do a short routine in front of her coworkers for the entertainment at an office party. She’s nervous. She talks about how she’s afraid that she’s going to bomb and then all her coworkers will look at her for months or years after thinking, “Well, there goes that gal who’s trying to do something she has no hope of ever accomplishing.” She may have even said that it’s harder to do it in front of people she knows; there’s more at stake.

Copyright Yahoo! Screen. No permission was obtained for use of this image. Hopefully they'll consider it free advertising.Turns out, her coworkers are exceedingly supportive, and they praise her after her set. “Well,” she says, “they’re my friends. I mean, they’re going to support you even if you’re terrible. It’s one thing to make your friends laugh; it’s another thing to make complete strangers laugh.”

That’s kind of an about-face, isn’t it? First it was going to be harder to do it in front of people she knew. Then it was going to be harder to do it in front of strangers. So which is it?

I think the real issue is that it’s going to be hard. It’s going to be scary. Failure Club is probably pretty good for her; it’s reason and motivation to keep pushing forward anyway. If the group weren’t there for her, I suspect she’d have quit, assuming she’d have ever even started. Without Failure Club, I suspect the journey would have gone something like this:

  1. Recognize the desire to do stand-up
  2. Realize that desire is terrifying
  3. Figure she’s going to fail if she tries
  4. Don’t try

If this really is how it would go, I can’t help but notice that she’s failed. In wanting to do stand-up but not doing it, she’s failed at doing stand-up. Her prophecy of failing leads to failure. The prophecy fulfilled itself.

I don’t intend for this to be a drawn-out commercial for Failure Club (though perhaps if Yahoo! sees it that way, they’ll be less likely to demand I take down their image). Rather, I just find it a good example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think our lives are probably riddled with self-fulfilling prophecies, though perhaps we don’t always recognize them. What we expect to happen often does. Some people I once knew would occasionally point to Job’s cry, “What I fear has befallen me!” (Job 3:25)

This works both ways, actually, so it’s not always a fear thing. Some people seem more successful in their lives because they expect things to go well, and their positive outlook affects the way they approach whatever it is, which can sway people to respond to them positively or keep themselves motivated, and the outcome they want and expect is more likely to happen.

Perhaps it’s not a bad spiritual discipline to examine what “prophecies” we might be laying down in our hearts about God, ourselves, our spiritual lives, our relationships, our churches, and so forth. How do I think God is going to respond to me in prayer? Where does that expectation come from? Scripture? Fear? Past experience of God? Past experience of other people? How do I think my day is going to go? Is it just because I’m emotionally on or off, or is there other reason? What do I think church or my community group is going to be like next time?

So long as we’re laying down prophecies ahead of time, we sort of push for those prophecies to fulfill themselves without realizing it, for good and ill. If those prophecies aren’t what we or God really wants, maybe acknowledging that we’re making them in the first place can help stave off our tendencies to make them happen. And maybe with a little reality check thrown in and some supportive brothers and sisters (our own “Failure Club”?), we can create some different “prophecies” for ourselves to fulfill.

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