I’m a full-time mom. I’m a full-time wife. I’m a full-time employee, a full-time discipler and full-time neighbor. I’m a full-time friend, a full-time daughter and sister, a full-time consumer. I’m a full-time person. There are some hats harder than others, but not one of them has the luxury of coming off for very long or really even at all. Most days I feel like I must be failing at something quite terribly and someone somewhere soon is going to either fire me or try to call me out and I will have to admit (once more) that I am not, in fact, really good at everything I (am trying to) do.
The Fear of Failure
Being bad at something doesn’t scare me so much as the actual consequences of being bad at something. If I’m a terrible parent, I’ll have terrible children. If I’m a horrible wife, my marriage suffers. If I don’t teach my bible courses well, women could walk away not knowing the gospel. If I counsel someone poorly, they could miss the healing of God. If I don’t organize a meal plan, my family could be eating PB&J all week. If I don’t budget well, we’ll go into debt. All real scenarios, all real consequences. The fear however, is lodged in the idea that if the worse case scenarios happen and I drop the ball, the consequence is going to be a result that I don’t want. A result that is bad for me and bad for those I love.
All these consequences have one big thing in common however: they’re really all about me. I want a happy marriage with great children who all eat healthy meals and are appropriately disciplined and loved well through my ability to share the gospel, give godly counsel, be a useful employee and make wise financial choices, all while making time to go to the gym and keep a tidy, organized, clean 750 square feet of our tiny Manhattan apartment where we strive to be hospitable and available to our local church, university students and neighbors. No big deal.
And if I can do all this, I’ll feel really good about my life (and myself).
My Small God
This is me making God very small. As if he isn’t big enough to pick up the pieces of bad finances or misread scripture. As if he can’t quite handle me being a jerk to my husband or losing my patience with an energetic three-year-old. As if he’s never seen anyone be unorganized in their home or make bad choices with their eating habits. As if he doesn’t know what to do when Christians misrepresent him (or at best poorly represent Him) to people. As if he’s never had to deal with that.
My Faithful God
This is God showing himself faithful. At the end of the day, my kids do know they have parents who at least try to love God and them. My marriage struggles towards grace as we cry out for God’s help. My failings often show my students (and my kids) how no one is above the need or the power of God’s saving grace in his gospel. You see, my failures, the consequences of my actions, are actually what displays the redemption of God. He uses my weaknesses in relationship to show my need for him. It’s in my marriage he reveals my pride. It’s in my failures at work he unveils my hypocrisy. It’s in my poor parenting he shows how badly I need him. It’s in my disorganization that he highlights my inability to do everything well. By me not getting to the gym he opens my eyes to the vanity in my heart. It's here that he makes space in my heart to worship him as he works his glory amidst the junk. My failures have consequences, but God is bigger than both my failures and the consequences.
The truth is, without God’s help not only am I going to endure the inevitable failings, but I’ll be miserable in the aftermath of my failures. But with God, he gives me not only hope, but actual help that can bring peace in all the crazy.
These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word. Isaiah 66:2
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 57:17
Grace for the Broken
The Hebrew word for “contrite” actually means crushed, crippled or broken. A contrite heart no longer fears the consequences of failure, but instead, embraces the glory, mercy and forgiveness of God. A contrite heart points to Christ instead of staring at its fears. A contrite heart embraces the failure and reaches out to others offering the mercy they have been given. A contrite heart is at peace, knowing the grace of God that allows us to repent to our spouses, children, colleagues and friends. And in the great Redeemer who is making all things new, we can not only rest with assurance, but also work with diligence because fail as we might, we have nothing to fear.
Questions for reflection:
Where are you striving for your own glory rather than God's?
Where are you striving for God's glory but terrified of failing thus not trusting Him to glorify himself?
In what ways do you need to repent of not trusting God?
How can you turn towards God and what do you need to do in order to trust Him more?
Who can you share your fear of failing with and the reasons for your fear?
Where is God seeking to redeem parts of who you are and your desires?
Rebekah Hannah is a biblical counselor at The Grace Center for Biblical Counseling in Jacksonville, Florida. She is married to Andrew and has three daughters.