Do you believe it’s okay to fail? If you asked me, I’d be quick to say, “Yes! Failure is a part of life. Failing means you’re human. Failure is an opportunity for learning. Failing means you tried.”
But turns out, what I know is true doesn’t always translate into how I feel.
Recently I messed up. I was talking on the phone while driving (yeah, I know) and I missed a turn. I didn’t realize my mistake until much too late. So late in fact that by the time I turned around, backtracked, and made it to my appointment, I was told that the doctor could no longer see me. The appointment I had waited months for. The appointment I had taken time away from work and arranged childcare for.
I stood in front of the receptionist, flustered and sweaty and desperate to turn back time, and I started to cry. Tears of frustration and embarrassment. And also tears of shame. The receptionist’s demeanor didn’t help. She avoided eye contact, and her tone was void of compassion. But as I drove home, silently wiping tears and berating myself for my mistake, I realized that my response was less about the inconvenience I caused and the unkind attitude I received and more about what I believe:
I believe I shouldn’t make mistakes.
I believe I should always be focused and timely and efficient.
I believe a string of bad nights’ sleep shouldn’t affect my clarity of mind.
I believe failure is an indictment on my character.
I share this in the spirit of gloss-less honesty. As I type these words though, I can name for myself all their slippery slopes and half-truths. I would never believe these things for you.
But sometimes it takes missing a turn and crying in front of a stranger to realize you’ve got some work to do in the department of self-kindness.
Self-kindness doesn’t mean making excuses or justifying poor behavior. But it does mean making space for mistakes. It means acknowledging that you’re human. Perfectionism is a myth. Performance-based living is soul-crushing. So why do we live like a mistake-free existence is the ultimate achievement?
I drove to my mom’s house to pick up my kids. I thought I had collected myself, but as I sat on a little stool while my mom putzed around the kitchen, the flow of tears started again.
“I just feel so stupid,” I confessed.
My mom hugged me and affirmed that failures big and small can just feel plain devastating. Then she made me a plate of sausage and sweet potatoes.
Space to cry. To be held. Loved. Fed. Those were gifts I wouldn’t have received if I hadn’t missed that turn and seemingly messed up my whole day.
And this is the beauty of God: He loves us at all times, and He works in all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28) — not just on the days when we have our ducks in a row and everything goes as planned.
If you are prone to feeling like your mistakes define you and disqualify you from God’s love and goodness, lean in here, sister, because I want you to hear something:
- Losing a library book will never make you lose God’s love.
- Flopping on a presentation or misspeaking in a meeting will never make you miss out on God’s goodness.
- Snapping at a family member doesn’t make God snap judgment on you.
- Flaking on a friend will never cause God to flake out on you.
- Forgetting to switch over the laundry again isn’t an indication that God will ever forget you.
I’m absolutely convinced that nothing — nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable — absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.
Romans 8:38-39 (MSG)
When we view our mistakes through the lens of God’s Word and His never-ending, unbreakable love, we are gifted a new perspective.
Psalm 119:96 says, “To all perfection I see a limit, but your commands are boundless.”
We aren’t going to miss out on God’s blessings because we’re imperfect human beings who get distracted and miss turns. As long as we keep turning back to the infallible roadmap of Scripture, God will keep gently turning us back to the gift of His love.
Thinking back to my doctor’s appointment mishap, I ask myself, Should I have been leaving a friend a voice message while driving? Probably not. Could I have ensured I was on the right track by activating turn-by-turn directions on my phone instead of relying on the little map my mama gave me? Sure. But failing to do so doesn’t make me a failure. It makes me a person.
Today I want to hug the me from that day and tell her that she is no less valuable or loved because she messed up. Today-me knows that appointments can be rescheduled and God’s mercies are new every morning. I cannot miss His love.
Is failure hard for you? What does today-you want to say to former-you?