My 84-year-old mom recently spent several weeks in the hospital battling an infection. During her stay, she lost a lot of physical strength and had to eventually relearn many daily tasks — tasks that once felt easy and familiar to her. At first, simply walking across the room was a chore.
One day, a nurse was helping my mom with an everyday task that she didn’t have quite enough strength to complete. Naturally, it was disappointing to Mom not to be able to do something that would have been a breeze not long before her hospitalization.
Mom’s words bubbled out in frustration: “I feel like I’m failing.”
Then, without skipping a beat, the nurse responded, “You’re not failing. You’re learning.”
Mom took the words to heart, and by the next week, she was doing the task that she thought she had failed.
As much as the nurse’s words were meant for Mom in that moment, they found a tender place in my soul, too. Here’s why: There have been many times in my life where I’ve said those five words to myself: “I feel like I’m failing.”
I felt like I had failed at friendship when it took me three years in a new community to find my people.
I felt like I had failed as a mom when I wasn’t sure how to parent two teenagers through a pandemic.
I felt like I had failed in my writing career when my stack of rejection letters got so high, I was afraid they might get altitude sickness!
I have felt moments of failure in nearly every area of my life at one point or another: in my health goals, my marriage, and even my life as a Christian.
But when I look back, those weren’t failures at all. They were moments to learn and grow. They were opportunities to find strength I didn’t know I had, and to discover a hope I didn’t think was possible.
Like the nurse told my mom, I wasn’t failing; I was learning. Learning how to be human. How to stand up again after facing adversity. How to look back, from time to time, and see how far I’d come.
Failing says, “Give up and walk away before you make a fool of yourself.”
Learning says, “Give yourself grace. You’re getting stronger every day.”
The voice that accuses you of being a constant failure is the voice of your enemy.
The voice that reminds you that you are a work in progress is the voice of your Savior.
From the time you took your first step on this earth, God has been watching you grow. He has been a witness to every one of your mistakes, missteps, and messes, but instead of calling you a failure, He reminds you that your past made you into the woman you are right now. (And He has loved every single version of you, by the way.)
All along, you were learning, not failing.
I love how Solomon describes this as a kind of falling-then-getting-back-up-again way of living. He writes in Proverbs 24:16: “The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again” (NLT).
The Message paraphrases the verse like this: “No matter how many times you trip them up, God-loyal people don’t stay down long: Soon they’re up on their feet, while the wicked end up flat on their faces.”
Solomon’s words give us the confidence to know that, with God, setbacks aren’t endings but opportunities to grow stronger. Remember that truth the next time your inner critic calls you a failure.
With God, you can trust God’s plan. To which you may say, well duh, Captain Obvious. But sometimes the obvious answer is the right one. Only God knows what His long-range plan is, and how we’re going to get there on a path that includes those so-called “failures.” Only God knows how the messed-up stuff in our lives is building a strength inside of us that we wouldn’t have built any other way.
There will come a time when you’ll look back and see how you grew in ways you didn’t know were possible. Even if you have to wait all the way until you’re 84 years old to see how brave and strong you were all along, may you sense God whispering this in your heart today: “You’re not failing. You’re learning.”
Jennifer’s book, Growing Slow, helps you set aside those feelings of failure, and see yourself as a human being, loved and tended by God as you grow and learn in Him.
P.S. Need even more encouragement to see God everywhere and experience His strength for everything? Then grab a copy of 100 Days of Strength in Any Struggle! This devotional journal features stories from all of your favorite (in)courage writers, plus life-line Scriptures, space to record your own thoughts and prayers, and a way to track how God is personally strengthening you. It releases tomorrow!!