For When You Feel Like A Failure

Do you ever feel like a failure? Or get upset because you don’t live up to your own expectations of what you should be able to accomplish?

Last week, we had VBS at our church. There was a girl who needed to talk about something, and my tongue tied itself up terribly. I just couldn’t get started with the conversation! Now, it might have had something to do with the fact that I’d just been pulled from doing crafts with the younger kids, and she was an older kid who had just come from lesson time. Plus, she’s a kid who doesn’t say much. I had no idea what she’d heard during the lesson, she had no idea how to explain what she wanted, and I just stumbled around trying to get the conversation started.

Thankfully, another leader who had been in the older kids’ lesson time stepped in and helped draw her out. But I felt so embarrassed at my inability to get the conversation started, and so upset at myself for failing to meet that expectation. I mean, every adult should be able to counsel a kid, right?

Of course, the problem wasn’t so much that I don’t know how (that would be a problem, indeed!). It had more to do with being out of context and not knowing the girl beyond her first name. It had to do with my weakness of not being much of a verbal conversationalist. It had to do with the nasty headache I was fighting and the tiredness from the previous three days of VBS (leading 4-7 year olds is no joke!).

Whatever the reasons, I felt like a failure. But then I got to thinking, trying to preach truth to myself and let logic dictate my emotions. I had to get out there and help with the little kids, and I didn’t have time to collect bruises in the self-pity ring. And as I prayed about my failure, God brought to mind a very important truth:

We are all failures at some thing, at least some of the time — and that’s okay. 

In fact, it’s better than okay: it’s the way God intended us to be! We weren’t made to handle things on our own. We weren’t created to be wonder women and supermen. We were created to be used, imperfect as we are — because God uses broken people.

Do you ever feel like a failure? Here's the thing: we are all failures at some thing, at least some of the time. And that's okay.

You may feel like a dirty, chipped pottery jug that sits on a shelf catching spiders and dust. Like an old book that nobody ever reads, with worn-out pages and a cracked spine. Like a forgotten quarter pushed down behind the sofa cushions, or a wilted flower in week-old water, or an old beater car that needs a kick just to get started.

If that’s what God created you to be during this season of your life, then you serve a purpose and He can use you to accomplish His will!

You don’t need to be perfect. You don’t need to be beautiful. You don’t need to be remembered or acknowledged, and you don’t even need to run well. You don’t need to meet anyone’s expectations other than God’s — and His expectations are simple:

  • Know Him — by reading and studying His Word on a daily basis, meditating on it and internalizing it, learning from good preaching and teaching, and growing in your relationship with Him.
  • Love Him — by learning more about His character and works throughout history, and spending time communing with Him through prayer and worship both privately and corporately (aka, your local church).
  • Obey Him — by putting His Word into practice, being tender to His Spirit’s nudging, quick to hear and do, and humbly surrendering every part of your life to His leading.

Notice what’s NOT in that list? Being a good speaker, having confidence to teach others, juggling work and family and church and community without ever dropping a ball, being a perfect role model for others, always looking your best, never failing at anything . . .

We are all failures at some thing, at least some of the time. And that’s okay.

I love what Paul writes as he reflects on his plea for God to remove his ‘thorn in the flesh’:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

We are all broken jars of clay . . . but our Creator is all powerful, and He has the right to use us however He wants . . . ugly cracks and all. And the beautiful thing is, His glorious power shines through our cracks and chips as we humbly surrender to His leading.

Light can’t shine through a fully opaque, fully enclosed jar — and God’s power will not shine through a fully self-sufficient, self-reliant human being.

The more cracks we have, the more He shines through us.

Even if we stumble over our words, get tongue-tied, say the wrong thing, leave somebody out, forget the rules, or fail in some other way.

Perfection belongs to God. That doesn’t mean we don’t try to do our best in every circumstance, and be as prepared as possible for every situation. But it does mean that when we DO fail, which we will, we don’t need to feel like failures. We don’t have to beat ourselves up just for being human.

A better response would be to take a few moments for reflection — consider the reason for our “failure” and the lessons to be learned from it:

  • Was the failure due to lack of preparation? If you’re supposed to teach a class, did you spend adequate time studying the lesson beforehand and preparing your heart to teach? If you are on the music schedule for the day, did you spend time picking out the best piece and practicing it adequately? This is one reason for failure that WE have control over! It can teach us the importance of being prepared — and help us avoid that kind of failure in the future.
  • Was the failure due to actual inability? If you physically can’t do a pull-up, how can you expect to demonstrate the proper technique? If you aren’t a character in DC comics, how can could you hope to save the world? More importantly: if you aren’t a Christian, how can you explain the plan of salvation to someone else? In some cases, inability is acceptable (see: failure to be Wonder Woman). In others, it’s a spiritual problem that needs to be remedied — and if you aren’t sure how to fix things, then you need to find a godly friend or leader to help you.
  • Does the failure provide a way to showcase God’s glory? My physical limitations are on full display every Sunday morning as I fulfill responsibilities at my church. Fatigue hinders me from doing everything perfectly, but God’s glory is often displayed through my weaknesses — like my failures to hit the right notes on the piano, or say exactly the right words as I teach. The days I stumble more are the days I lean on Him more — and those are the days He seems to work even more powerfully through my feeble attempts to serve Him.
  • Does the failure shift our focus to the One who never fails? We are all feeble and broken. Our lives are messy and imperfect. We all fail some of the time — but we have access to the One who never fails! We are weak, but He is strong. We are broken, but He is whole and holy. It is foolish to try to do things in our own power, or beat ourselves up for being imperfect. when we are never without the One who is great enough to work through all our weaknesses and limitations! His strength is enough!

We aren’t supposed to be perfect, or self-sustaining, or strong enough to do everything on our own: we were created to depend on One greater than ourselves, to let HIM work through our weaknessess, and trust HIM to bring about the desired results as we obey His Word.

We are all failures at some thing, at least some of the time. And that’s okay.
For when I am weak, then HE is strong.

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