Failure Is Necessary: What failure says about your identity

If you’ve been following along for a while, you know I’m a little crazy about grasping our God-given identity. Understanding identity dictates what we believe about ourselves, it guides how we make our decisions, build our relationships, spend our time and so on. But what happens when we fall short, when we miss the mark, when we fail? Life’s circumstances have a voice, and it’s time to address what failure says about your identity.

Picture the scene…

You’ve been working on a project for a long time. It’s been one of many, and several people know about it. You’ve put your heart and soul into it, but something just isn’t right. It isn’t working. There’s no growth, it isn’t getting easier and you’re not getting closer to success. Finally, unable to turn it around — whether because there’s too much to fix, too much has been lost or you can’t muster any more willpower to keep going — you decide to call it quits.

You tell your family, friends, and colleagues. They seem understanding and they say all the supportive words. But you still wonder, and a question starts burning in your mind:

“Am I a failure?”

Sound a little familiar?

I know it does for me — because I’ve been there for a couple of weeks.

Two years ago, I started a pretty massive project (for me, at least). It was new and exciting and waaaaay outside of my comfort zone. But I dove in headfirst. And even though I gave it my all, I wasn’t getting a good enough return on my investments. So recently, I decided to suspend my efforts and let it go.

Deciding to quit did not come easy — there were numerous conversations with my husband and confirmations from others. It was decided with discernment and wisdom. But still, it raised the question that has haunted me every time I’ve quit something in my life: am I a failure? Or more specifically, Is failure part of my identity?

Somehow highlighting the fact that we all fail just isn’t comforting enough.

There are countless things we can fail at: hobbies, jobs, relationships, tests, school… The list goes on and on. And to put it simply, we know everyone fails sometimes. We’ve probably even said that to another struggling soul, using it as well-intended encouragement. But it still leaves something to be desired in our aching hearts.

So why is failure so painful, and why does its voice scream so loudly in our heads? In my case, I can think of two reasons: first, because I’m afraid it’s actually speaking the truth about who I am. That somehow, despite my best efforts to do the right things, I will always fall short because I can’t beat failure.

And second, because I have an obsession with perfect success. When I start something, I’ve got a vision of a specific outcome. I chase after it, use my skills to achieve it and try to manifest it. I had a plan — lose or rigid — where every piece of the puzzle fell into place. And when I fail, it doesn’t happen. My picturesque situation did not come to pass. So that must mean I was wrong; I had the wrong idea, the wrong skills, or just didn’t have enough of everything.

And worse, if someone was counting on me to succeed…well, the whispers of shame make the failure that much worse. It can be identity-deep and shattering.

porch-swing-and-coffee-cup

Do our failures say something important about our identity?

Maybe it’s only one failure, maybe it’s habitual failures in a specific area. Either way, is it fair to say our failures are the result of some bent in our identities?

Well, I think we need to do some work to recognize failure’s proper place.

First off, think about this: name one person you know who hasn’t failed at anything in their entire life.

(that’s me, waiting.)

Yeah, I thought so. We just can’t do it.

Failure – in some capacity – is inescapable in our human nature. From the minute failures of a baby falling repeatedly in learning how to walk, from the larger relational, project or career failures. We only have to take a quick glimpse into Genesis 3 to recognize this in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve had one rule, and they couldn’t even keep that. Epic fail. So if we’re looking from our human perspective at identity — our capacity to live in the flesh and, as a result, sin — yes, failure is an aspect of our humanity.

But that’s not where the buck ends.

As Christians, I think a common misunderstanding of our identity is not fully grasping that who we are isn’t up to us anymore. Our identity is fixed, according to what scripture says about us. That’s the gift of grace.

Now, let me ack up a little. I asked you to name a single person who never failed. And we can — Jesus.

Yes, I realize that sounds a little like the typical Sunday-school-answer. But humor me and consider Jesus’ ministry. He was opposed, ridiculed, run out of town. His best friends betrayed him. He was beaten beyond recognition. And ultimately, he was brutally murdered.

Does that sound like the definition of success? From our human perspective, not at all. But in light of the gospel, we know it was all for the ultimate success, so we could have a relationship with Him. Jesus beat the ultimate failure — he beat sin. Failure has absolutely no place in His identity. And because of the gift of grace I just mentioned, our true identity is fixed in Him. There’s no place for failure in our identity.

So to reiterate (because it’s worth saying again):

Failure is part of our humanity, but it is not part of our Christ-given identity.

In light of that, I think we need to stop being afraid of failure

Right now, as I’m writing this, I’m a total failure. I’ve sat down three times to write this post and gotten nowhere. I’ve wrestled with it, struggling to get the words down on “paper” and communicate what’s on my heart. To top it off, I’ve got about half-a-dozen goals that are unmet, I’ve been impatient with my kids today and my house is a mess.

Needless to say, I’m not feeling it. Since I’ve failed so much at writing this, maybe it’s a sign I need to give up on it. Just let it go. Because this topic is important — and I’m afraid of getting this wrong.

And that’s exactly why we need to keep pressing on through our failures.

See, there is a lie floating over our heads saying, “if you fail, that’s it. Failure is a part of who you are now. Leave the task to someone else — they’ll get it right. You can’t do it.” So we quit early, or worse, never step out and try in the first place. We fall into fear and let it make decisions for us.

It’s so important to recognize the lie and fear. Instead of being bowled over by that kind of darkness, cling to the truth about your value: the God of the universe specifically created you, chose you and gave you a special job to do in proclaiming Him (1 Peter 2:9, Ephesians 2:10). You have a purpose, don’t let fear steal that from you — and the people around you.

orange-lily

Failure could be the opening God needs to reach into your life.

There is something special about sitting in the middle of your failure and wrestling with it. I’m not talking about simply accepting its reality or analyzing if you “could have done something better.” (Don’t go there, it’s just wasted energy.) I’m talking about sitting amongst the yuck, intentionally tuning out the negative voices, and going to God with it.

Leaning into that hardship takes a strong act of vulnerability. But the beautiful thing about those moments is there are no pretenses. There’s no plan telling you what direction to go next. There’s no success telling you that you’ve done everything right. Instead, we test our mettle against scripture and let God tell us what your identity is. And that might be exactly where He wants you to be.

In fact, failure might actually be the open door God is going to use to reach your heart on a new level. That’s a bold statement, I know. But think about it: we don’t go looking for new opportunities until something else has failed. It’s one of the most vulnerable times when we are open to new options. So failure can be a very effective tool in getting us to run back to God and ask those questions we wouldn’t have otherwise asked. To see his face instead of our own outcomes, and receive new life from him, but in a new calling or a new vision or a new understanding through the Holy Spirit.

And here’s a semi-non sequitur: I don’t think I’ve ever had to live so vulnerably, sat in so much failure or sought God’s help so much as being a mom. I feel like a failure often (moms, I know you get it). In fact, I love this post written by Michelle Visser over at Souly Rested, When Parents Feel Like Failures. She tenderly drives home the fact that raising successful kids has nothing to do with your success, and they may even be more successful in certain areas because you fail. So take some pressure off yourself, weary momma, and keep moving forward.

In short, yes, failure is necessary. But guess what? You’re strong enough to embrace it.

I’ll admit as I was writing this post, I got a little caught up in reading quotes about failure. And so I happened upon this one:

Failure proives the opportunity to begin again, more intellegently.

Henry Ford

Failure is so much easier to swallow when we stop believing the lie that it is part of our God-given identity. Yes, it’s still uncomfortable, but it’s not debilitating. We can stop being afraid of it and learn from it instead.

I’ve spent years wrestling with feelings of being a failure. I’ve spent ridiculous amounts of time listening to the voices saying I can’t cut it, I’m falling short, I won’t succeed. When you hear those words long enough, you start to see yourself through the same lens. 

Dear friend, if that’s where you are, it’s time to take those dark and murky glasses off. Your experiences will scream at you, telling you you’re wrong, failure is where your identity rests. Don’t fall for it. God did not create you to be defeated by this.

What truths do you cling to when faced with failure? Comment below!

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