Not a Failure

When have you felt like a failure?

I awoke this morning from a terrible, vivid dream. Obviously, the dream’s dystopian events are fictional, but the feelings it evoked linger like creepy-tingling nightmarish fog fingers from a supernatural horror movie.

I know exactly what the dream meant: I feel like I’m failing. I feel helpless to do anything more or differently than we’re already doing, and all our efforts might not be enough.

image from Canva

After years of being told I’m too sensitive, I’ve come to recognize my sensitivity as a gift. I’ve learned to trust my gut. So while the dream may have been awful, in the waking light I hear what it said: this particular struggle is causing an inordinate amount of stress.

I’m not a failure, and I could slough off the bad dream with the bed covers. Yet I’m choosing to pay attention. To study this feeling, turning it this way and that as I examine it from new angles. I’m leaning in to receive any wise whispers while rejecting any shaming nonsense.

Here’s a neat trick: while I refuse the shame-label “Failure!” I’m actually a fan of failure itself. To have failed means to have taken a risk that didn’t play out as you’d hoped. Failure means you’ve tried – try, try again. The only way to move forward is to try new things, and as you try things you’ve never done before, you will most likely be bad before you get better. Beginners are meant to be bad, and it’s always worth it to be a beginner if you find joy in the process. Try, fail, try again, fail again, get back up… Persistence is the name of the game.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Our immediate next right step meant taking the dogs for a long stroll on a beautiful morning. Along the way, I blurted thoughts related to the dream and asked for my husband’s input. Thankfully, he gets it. He shares my frustrations and feels similarly stymied. Since the struggle itself won’t disappear anytime soon, at least we’re in it together.

A couple blocks from our return home, we encountered a neighbor we’re friendly with but don’t know well. And wouldn’t you know, during our brief chat she offered a balm-compliment that soothed our sore spot. A lovely little grace gift.

I don’t know your struggles, just as you don’t know the specifics of mine. But I know that so long as we’re breathing we have work to do. I, too, occasionally need some spiritual ibuprofen to soothe the aches and pains caused by the heavy lifting life requires. I can make a solid guess that, so long as you’ve picked up the tools you need for today, you haven’t given up. You are not a failure. And I’m cheering you on.

Cover Image by Игорь Левченко from Pixabay

Don’t Give Up

Persistent defines Teen well, one of his stronger personality traits.

We have snakes in our house because of Teen’s persistence. I said yes to geckos but NO to snakes. For years, Teen argued, researched, debated, cajoled, prayed – and believe me, we had long conversations about how God answers prayer: yes, no, or not now. Teen said, “God’s already told me Yes.” I said, “He hasn’t told me, so keep praying.” Teen persisted in prayer – and parental petition – until God eventually nudged me that, in truth, I do love my son more than I fear snakes. His room occasionally smells like the reptile house at the zoo, but we have also grown closer as a family as we facilitated Teen’s pursuit of his passion.

platinum ball python

platinum ball python

We let Teen attend a rave because of his persistence. We said, Absolutely Not! He told his friends Maybe. He worked out details and presented a “logical” case for how it could all work at minimal parental cost/effort. We combated his case with facts of our own: the risk of alcohol and drug exposure high on that list. Days, weeks, months of his arguments eventually forced us to address the possibility that he might find a way to sneak around us. So we said yes, and got sneaky with our qualifications: Guy picked him up after the event and planned a following full day of activities that would feel great if he behaved and terrible if he didn’t – built-in reward or consequences. There’s more to it than that, but short story: we all had a great weekend, and the experience strengthened Teen-parent trust.

Teen went snowboarding this weekend because of his persistence. A month ago he tore a ligament in his elbow. In a cast for a week and a brace for two, he began physical therapy this week. He leaves with his rugby team for nine days in Italy in less than three weeks; they will play and stay with Italian teams and have training sessions with the Italian National Team – an unbelievable opportunity for which he needs to be healed. Mama thinks snowboarding is an unnecessary risk, not to mention expense. But again, Teen worked out all the details, paid for the lift ticket and rental equipment, and arranged for the parent-chaperone to call Guy with reassurance. Praying for safety, I also recognize that his responsibility in the past deserves increased independence.snowboarding

We can’t take credit for Teen’s persistence, but we also modeled persistent prayer. As a toddler, he wanted a sibling and we wanted a second child, so we prayed. Years later, including a year of failed fertility treatments, and still no baby. We began to pray for contentment if God intended us to have only one birth child. Two months after our last fertility treatment, we discovered we were pregnant, and Tween was born when Teen was five and a half. Looking back, what felt like God’s silent treatment in response to our faithful prayers we now see as God’s patient timing – some of our richest friendships have blossomed with parents of Tween’s friends, relationships we might have missed if Tween had come earlier.

As a family we prayed persistently about how we would spend Guy’s sabbatical time. For two years we prayed and pursued spending a summer in Peru; God shut that door and directed us instead to His provision of two glorious months in Costa Rica. The experience was truly more than we could have asked or imagined, but clearly not more than God could provide.Cocoally CR watercolor

Jesus tells a story in Luke 18 intended to encourage His followers to always pray and not give up. He closes the parable by asking whether He will find faith on earth. The combined sentences have me wondering: Do I have enough faith? If the persistent widow had stopped petitioning the unjust judge for the justice only he could provide, her case would never have been settled. What might God do if I looked with eyes of faith for the things only He can do – and ask for them? What might God do if I faithfully pray and don’t give up?

Most importantly, how might persistent prayer change my relationship with God? Teen’s persistence has changed things in our house, including our relationships. We have grown together as we have kept up regular, intense, sometimes heated dialogue. It’s not always easy but it works, and I wonder if I have as much to learn from Teen as he has had to learn from me about persistent prayer.

Connect
Share about a time when you felt like giving up on something important but didn’t.

Study
Read aloud Luke 18:1-8.
Describe the judge. Describe the widow. Put this situation in your own words (vv. 2-5).
Get inside the judge’s mind: why might he have refused the widow’s plea for justice (v. 4)?
What does this passage tell us about God? About prayer?
What is the connection between faith and prayer? Explain Jesus’ question in v. 8.
What does Luke tell us is the point of this parable (v. 1), and what does that mean to you?

Live
How do you handle it when it feels like God hasn’t answered quickly, like He’s putting you off?
Are there some prayers we know God will always answer, and if so, what?
For what have you cried out to God day and night? How did you see God respond?
How would you answer someone who asked, “Does prayer work?”
What will you do this week to persist in faithful prayer?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that the Spirit will lead you to pray more.