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Yesterday I failed really well. I messed up on a major part of my job right now – filing reimbursement requests for people on the field. I miss-filed, miss-directed and made a general royal mess of things. Not just once. But repeatedly. And my first response was the familiar feelings of panic and shame – “What are you even doing here?” “People are going to think you’re incapable, and not really cut out for this,” and “It’s not really my fault, my training was super-fast.” 

Have you ever failed before? Or felt like you were failing? Inadequate for the task? Even incompetent?

How do you respond when you aren’t performing well at the task given? Do you want to curl into a ball, give up, quit and look to do something else? Do you brush it off, ignore it and look to distract yourself with things you like? Do you become defensive? Perhaps look to see who else may be at fault that you can share the blame with? Do you berate yourself, and tell yourself what a failure you are? How do feel when you know that someone in authority over you is aware of your failings?

I had a friend who thought that if she didn’t beat herself over the head, she’d never learn. Unfortunately, none of us learn well that way – not when someone else is demeaning us, nor when we’re demeaning ourselves. This past year, God spoke deeply to my heart about the performance trap – needing to do well, all the time, in order to validate myself in front of others. The reason that it’s a trap, is that it leaves no room for learning and growth – “if you can’t do it perfectly at first, then why even try?” – and how many people are good the first time at everything they put their hand to? If you’ve been with those who think they are, they can sometimes be demanding and grace-less when it comes to others around them. I know, because I’ve been one of them – a perfectionist caught in the snare of pride in my abilities, and shame in my shortcomings.

If you recognize yourself at all in this, then let me share what God spoke to me last Summer: “Your value is not determined by your performance,” and “You can’t earn love or grace.” Read those one more time, because this is huge: our value isn’t determined by others’ opinion of us, or of how we perceive others’ opinion of us; it’s not determined by how well or how poorly we come out in comparison to others. Our value is determined by, and only by, what God says about us.  And He has counted me – and you – worth His own life: the mystery of the only Son of God, God himself, given in our place for our shortcomings, and sin. The value He places on us, has everything to do with His opinion of us, His relentless love for us, and nothing to do with our performance, or our ability to earn that love. 

So, what’s the big deal? The big deal, I believe, is that we can’t step into our purpose unless we’re willing to learn and grow. And learning and growth almost always have to come through failure, through the grace to get up and try again.  If we’re not willing to fail, and admit to failure, we won’t take the risks needed to grow – and we’ll remain stunted in one area or another of our lives. And God’s purpose in us will remain stunted and unfulfilled as well. Not to mention that living in pride, fear and shame is not a fun thing.

The encouraging thing is that after 44 years, I am learning!  I am encouraged – I did fail – super well. But at the end of the day, I was able to recognize the fear and the shame, name it, and reject it. I’m not “a failure,” I just have a chance to own up to my own short-comings (I could have asked questions, and waited instead of plowing ahead, trying to fix things myself), and to grow. And growth is good. Not painless, but really good. How else will you become a tree planted by streams of living water, bearing fruit in season and out, if you’re not willing or able to grow?