As a (recovering) perfectionist, there’s really only one thing that scares me more than failing. (Besides the obvious things like death and small spaces and moths...things everyone is afraid of too, right? No?)
What scares me more than failing, is failing twice. Remember that old adage, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” That’s what I’m talking about. Except it feels more like “Failure of any kind, shame on me.”
It’s hard enough to take a risk or step out into something that might mean failure once. This could be debuting a new song at church, or sharing something vulnerable with an audience, or starting a difficult conversation. Those things require the ordinary courage that we all are asked to exude.
Then, there is a whole other new and scary kind of courage that life requires. It’s the kind of courage demanded by situations where you’ve already failed and you have to persist in that same service, family, context, or pursuit.
Maybe this looks like being in a continued relationship with someone who you have already disappointed, or has disappointed you. It’s getting up the next day and receiving that mercy or forgiveness or grace. You don’t get to just wash your hands of it because you’re embarrassed you messed up, like I often wish I could.
Maybe the familiar brand of failure is with your family, or a family you desire. Maybe a dream that’s been lost, or just hasn’t yet been found. Maybe you find yourself at a crossroads and desperate for any hint of which way to go. There are so many ways that we find ourselves scared or disappointed in anticipation of what (could be) to come.
I’m getting pretty good at noticing when this fear of failure is at root in a situation. It’s becoming easier and easier to remember the telltale signs of that anxiety, particularly for me because it’s become so familiar.
Even when it’s named, though, we still have to face it. We still have to confront the reality that life does not come with guarantees. We can’t sit around hoping God will tell us exactly what to do and promise us a 100% success rate.
In fact, what He has told us instead is, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
For me, this means setting aside my natural inclination towards only stepping out when it seems like success is probable. Instead, when my heart beats fast and my anxiety wants to take over, and I will choose to take small steps forward, remembering that God is not a God of confusion, but of peace (1 Cor. 14:33) and that is more than enough for me.
It means that things will be difficult, and yet our job is to be faithful. God gave us a simple task, to trust Him. It isn’t an easy one for our prideful, self-sufficient souls to pursue. But, it is the most excellent way.
Trusting God with our faith and our efforts, and leaving the results up to Him means that we have to trust Him, not just with the possibility of our failures, but with the inevitability of them. It means we can’t hide from failure, even failure over and over again. We must face the reality that failure is not the enemy, and that we have a God who is good and powerful and faithful, even when failure overcomes us. We have a champion who has already overcome the world.