Freedom to Fail

Have you ever been afraid to try something because you might fail?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has fought this battle. As far back as I can remember, I’ve hesitated to attempt something that I’m not confident about. Let me give you an example.

I was a senior in high school. My grades were excellent and I had applied to a “selective” university that I really wanted to attend. I’d completed all the college track classes I needed—English, math, science, etc., but I still lacked a “fine or practical art.” I really wanted to take photography. I had been given my first SLR camera for Christmas and I wanted to take magnificent photos. However, academically, this was new territory. I knew I could do classwork, and I have a knack for taking exams, but photography was creative. Could I do that too? What if I couldn’t?

I’m ashamed to admit that instead of taking the class I really wanted, I settled. My advisor suggested “senior homemaking”—a guaranteed A just for showing up. It covered life basics, such as balancing a checkbook (I already had a checking account), renting an apartment, and cooking basic meals. I was bored and miserable. But I collected my A and headed off to college—with regrets.

I still hadn’t learned my lesson. Throughout my adult life, I’ve avoided placing myself into difficult situations. Sure, we obeyed God and moved from California to Colorado. We went from a good income to barely enough missionary support. I’m wired for change, and those were exciting adventures. It never occurred to me that I, personally, could fail.

It didn’t help that the few times I did venture beyond my comfort zone, things didn’t go well. I’ll spare you the list, but the most recent was being fired from a simple retail job after only five months. To be honest, the store manager was less than honest, claiming things that were not true—so that may not have been my fault. Still, failing at such a basic role shook my confidence and sent me on a multi-month tailspin that I’m only now recovering from. (It helps that God provided a new job—not in retail—at more than twice the pay.)

I could have continued along this path indefinitely, but God had other ideas. He doesn’t leave us the way we are. He changes us for the better.

Recently, God asked me to try something completely new, something I have absolutely no talent for. My first inclination was to say no, but I know that saying no to God never turns out well. Just ask Jonah.

So I said yes. And amazingly (though maybe, knowing God’s character, I shouldn’t be so surprised), God immediately both confirmed my calling and gave me a huge dose of encouragement.

It happened during communion. As I prayed, God reminded me that Jesus not only paid for my past mistakes (sins, rebellion, you name it), He paid for my future ones—for those I have yet to commit.

No matter how hard I try to get things right, I know I’m going to mess up. Even with the help of the Holy Spirit living in me, as long as I inhabit this body, I’m going to fail sometimes. The incredible truth is that Jesus’ death gives me the freedom to fail.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I should stop trying. In Romans 6:1-2, Paul writes,

What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

And again, in verses 15-16:

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Absolutely not!  Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or obedience resulting in righteousness?

I think God has finally gotten the point through my thick skull. It’s all right to fail. He won’t love me less. If He can forgive me my most important failure—rejecting His authority and going off to do things my own way—surely He will forgive me when I don’t succeed at lesser tasks. Jesus took the blame for it all.

I don’t have to be perfect.

What a relief!

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