Perfecting Failure

I sat in the damp grass staring out over the Atlantic Ocean as waves smashed the eroding cliffs beneath me. I had only been in Ireland for a few days and was still dazed by the beauty of this charming spot on the planet. Now, as I sat on top of the Cliffs of Moher, I was trembling with the awe that comes from beholding something that is both purely beautiful and terrifyingly treacherous.

“Stay away from the edge,” our guide had told us, “People have been pulled over to their death by strong gusts of wind.” I wasn’t sure if he was being over-dramatic for the tourist’s sake, but I settled in a spot several yards from the edge anyway. 

The leader of the student group I was with had given each of us a stone and a sharpie leaving us to explore on our own with these instructions:

“Write on this stone the one thing that is keeping you from being completely obedient to God. Talk to God about this thing. When you think you are ready to give it up to him, throw the stone over the cliff into the ocean.”

I turned the smooth stone over in my hand and looked again at the word I had written only seconds after sitting down to think. There was no question what was keeping me from complete obedience. I didn’t have to think long and hard about it. I knew immediately.


Fear of what? What was I afraid of? Rejection? Ridicule? Persecution? Failure? People? Snakes? Yes. Thankfully, there are no snakes in Ireland. But, of all of those, what really scared me the most was failure. 

I sat for awhile and eventually got tired of listening to my own thoughts and prayers and decided keeping a stone with the word fear written on it would be weird, so I threw it over the edge and mustered up a deep resolve to be more courageous. My resolve lasted all the way back to the bus and then disappeared as I quietly slouched into my window seat and immediately put my CD Walkman headphones on (yes, I said walkman) afraid someone would try to start a conversation with me. So much for courage that day. 

Fast forward 16 years. My Walkman has been replaced by my iPhone, which also helps me avoid conversations. My souvenirs and pictures from Ireland are in a box in the attic, and I have failed at courage countless times since that incredible trip. Yet, that desire to be fearless has remained. Sometimes, the resolve to have courage hits me and I’m sure that this time it will stick. And sometimes it does…for awhile. 

Most days though, fear of failure tags along as I go throughout my work. I fear that homeschooling my kids might be screwing them up. I fear that I’m losing myself a little in these trenches of motherhood and I may not find myself again once these littles are grown and gone. I fear that my emotional ups and downs may wear my husband out. I fear the opinions of others. I fear that my attempts to do the things that I believe God has called me to do will crumble to pieces in my hands. These fears wake me up at night in a panic. 

Fear wastes so much of my life. Is fear wasting your life, too? 

The only way for us to process our fears is with a firm grasp of the Gospel. Without Christ, we will live in fear and for good reason. What other hope is there but Christ? But we are not without Christ. His Spirit is in us. His perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). His perfection has replaced our imperfection. So we do not need to be afraid of failing. When we fail miserably at mothering, adulting, marriage, and life in general, we do not need to cower in fear. God is our rock, our strength, the One who fights for us (Psalm 18:30-36), not because we are so strong and deserve it, but because we are so weak and need Him desperately. 

When we keep our minds on Christ, we can have peace, and our fear can be put in its' place instead of running amok through our lives (Isaiah 26:3).

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When I remind myself of these things, there is a physical weight that I can feel being lifted. My shoulders relax and I find I can take deep breaths again. I start to enjoy motherhood again. I become excited about life, instead of dreading it. My worth and value has nothing to do with my ability to perform well. Neither does yours. We can risk living fully, stretching into the work in front of us without fear of failure - not because we won’t fail, but because when we do, the work of Jesus shines more brilliantly through us, and he holds us close through it all with steadfast love that never fails.

We don't have to be afraid.

My prayer for you and me today, is that we will rest in the work of Christ. I pray as we labor obediently at what God has given us to do, that we will not get caught up in the success and failure of it all. I pray that we will remember that this life is not so much about what we accomplish, but rather about what Jesus has already accomplished and is continuing to accomplish in and through us. I pray that we will rejoice in the security of God’s love for us, today, and that our fear will be replaced by the joy that is found in the presence of God everyday.

I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.     Psalm 16: 8-11

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.    1 John 4:16-19