Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Turning Failure into Faith.

Growing up I was naturally athletic, fairly artistic, and overly ambitious. These traits have been part of me as long as I can remember. In school this meant I was often the "teacher's pet" and I did fairly well in most subjects and activities. In my late teens however, I started to see a problem crop up more and more: I was nearly incapable at handling the frustrations of being bad at something.

I took a beginner's piano course in college. I had played the trumpet in Elementary school and for a while in Jr. High, then I had done choir for six years afterwards, so I figured adding piano to my list of accomplishments would be a fairly easy task. Nope. It definitely wasn't.

I wasn't terrible, but I knew I'd never be considered gifted or excellent. I started slacking when it came to practicing and skipping a few classes here and there. By the end of the semester I was horribly behind on my hours and the fear of failing this class threatened me daily. The last two weeks I spent an absurd number of frustrating hours in the piano lab, attempting to log enough practice hours to earn a C. It worked, just barely. Never again, I thought, No more piano.

I didn't think about it much at the time, but I definitely avoided activities with potential for failure after my piano experience. I called it "Sticking with what I'm good at". A year or so later, my husband called it "avoiding what you're bad at".

Playing tennis brought out these same frustrations. I was naturally athletic, and probably pretty good for a beginner, but I knew I could never commit myself to becoming excellent at Tennis. It killed me! I hated it. I hated losing, I hated practicing knowing I was still going to stink, and I hated the irrational feelings that followed my attempts at playing.

Somehow, I had equated being excellent at an activity with being a worthwhile person, with being liked by others, or valued by leaders. In all my learning years, I was generally valued for my talents, accomplishments, or good behavior. Coaches were thrilled to have an ambitious, talented athlete on their team. Teachers loved my eagerness to learn and do what is right. Leaders at church appreciated my attentiveness and desire to know God better. But very few of them showed their appreciation for me in just being myself, uniquely created by God.

I know it's natural for adults to notice those who are excelling, to see and encourage those who have potential and desire success, but for me, this perpetuated my deep need to be excellent at everything I do. My personal bent in this area continues to create a lot of insecurity, striving, and anxiety in my daily life. It is partially how I am wired, but our culture also supports the idea that we create value in ourselves by being particularly excellent at something interesting and important. I have to intentionally undo this desire to be known for my achievements by focusing on God's excellent desires. None of us will find lasting fulfillment in accomplishment and success alone. God has something much bigger and much better for us.

He wants to show His love for me and move me to freely give His love to others. Through Jesus He has declared me righteous and He wants me to point others toward His glorious gift. He gives me peace in all circumstances and wants me to offer peace to all I encounter.

The list goes on: obedience, kindness, mercy, sacrifice, praise, patience. There are endless ways we experience and show the love of God, and enjoying the excellent achievements He gives us is only one of the ways we encounter Him. When I despair in my failed attempts, I act like God's goodness is unavailable in places where I am not perfect. When I do my best then wallow in worry over the outcome, I treat God's plans as untrustworthy. When I lack confidence in my talents for fear of what others will think, I treat God's intentional design of my life like a careless toss of the dice.

God is the farthest thing from unavailable, untrustworthy or careless. He has better plans for us after this life than anything we can achieve during our life on earth. And we have opportunity to participate in God's plans here on earth every day, in simple, easy ways.

When we love people despite their weakness, we give them God's love. When we recognize others' patience, we are evidence to them that God sees their efforts. When we encourage a person during a time of failure, we prove to them God's ability to meet them where they are. When we notice a small, special part of someone, we give them evidence of God's creative spark in their soul.

There are endless ways to give God to others, and to see Him in our lives. Like I said earlier, being excellent at something impressive is just one thing, only one way to see Him working in our lives. Being a dependable friend or persisting in doing good are tangible ways to be excellent at showing God to world around us. Being kind to your children and finding the good in hard situations are beautiful gifts to those around us. Bringing peace to your family and providing for tangible needs of those around you are enduring, fruit-bearing sacrifices.

Do not despise the little things. Do not strive after only big things. Do not let being excellent at one thing define your worth. Do not be discouraged with failure and closed doors. Put aside your desire for obtaining a great name, and desire instead to obtain fulfillment in Christ. Don't set your heart on finding fulfillment in what you can achieve in this life. Set your heart on God's plans for you to live a life of praising Him rather than seeking praise for yourself. Treasure the ways God is preparing you for eternal joy. Hope in what comes after this life is done. Only then will your failures feel small and insignificant. See what God sees in you, and search for what only He can reveal.

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:19-20

If all of this makes sense, but you cannot get your heart to agree, you are not alone. I am right there with you. It is still good for you to set your mind to the task. It's a wonderful opportunity to practice humility and admit you cannot do it yourself. Wait for God to change your heart and be willing to take the step forward, obeying even if your heart is not enthusiastic. He is good to us, and He will pull you in. He will not leave you in despair forever. Your ability to excitedly chase after God may come and go, but it does not make the prize any less wonderful. Go for it anyway. Walking, running, crawling, or inching, it's all still forward motion.


  1. I really appreciate this post, Jo. It is a reminder to me that I can't always chose the way in which God will be glorified in me. Part of our surrendering to Christ's lordship is surrendering the way in which his lordship will be expressed in our lives. Keep up the good writing.