Failure is not an option! You know that phrase, don’t you? Does a frowning face and deep commanding voice accompany it in your brain? Whether you have heard presidents, generals, coaches, or parents say it, we all know that authoritative declaration. Failure is not an option. It’s meant to tell us one thing – success is your only hope.
No wonder life can be overwhelming! With a 1000 lb. boulder like that hanging over you, there’s no WAY anything is allowed to go wrong!! Yet, so many of us live our lives with this statement reigning over us. The pressure to succeed is everywhere. We have to get good grades and do well in sports and drama so that we can succeed at getting into college and have a successful career. We need to succeed at being a great boyfriend so that we will have a successful relationship and get married. I need to succeed at this project so that I can be a good daughter and our family doesn’t experience more stress and fail. If I screw this up then things will all fall out of balance and nothing will work out, and all this hard work will be wasted because I wasn’t good enough and I couldn’t succeed and so I just failed and how could I fail when I knew how important this is? I must not be worth having around when I just fail and mess everything up; I suck.
Sound familiar? Well, let me tell you, that is NOT how God sees things. Keep reading to find out more!
“Do you even like volleyball?”
I remember exactly where I was when Kelsey asked me that – sitting on the floor in front of my locker with binders and folders and schedules sprawled out all around me. I had been playing with my upcoming semester’s schedule for most of lunch, while finishing my math homework and half a sandwich and texting my brother to remind him about the orthodontist. Basically, it was my typical Monday lunch.
When Kelsey asked me that question, it actually made me freeze. I started to shoot back a cheery “of course!” when I realized, for the first time in 3 years, how much I hated volleyball! So why was I co-captain of the varsity team? I honestly couldn’t tell you.
My sister had played in high school and college. I had hung around during the summer, conditioning myself before freshmen year. I had really just wanted to meet some people before school got started. Before I knew it I was practicing and then playing a game, and now I was on the team and a good player. They needed me to go to Europeans and then coach put me on varsity my sophomore year! After that, and with my sister off to college, my parents’ interest focused more on me and they were so proud that I had excelled at volleyball. Then I was voted co-captain and I knew the girls not only liked me but depended on me and thought I could help us go on to victory! Of course, I loved volleyball. I would never think of quitting. You’d have to be a crazy person to quit something you are so good at!
“Do you even like volleyball?”
I hated it. And I wanted to quit.
But you don’t quit. You work hard and you don’t give up. Failure isn’t an option and it’s practically a sin to give up. Success and Victory are words I’m comfortable with, not giving up or quitting or failing.
See, until Kelsey asked me that question, my world didn’t even contain the possibility of anything different. I was in honors classes, student government, and a 3-season athlete. On top of youth group and volunteering on Sunday in the daycare, and my cello lessons and Russian tutoring, I had my days packed to the gills, and I planned every second perfectly.
There is nothing wrong with having a full life and lots of commitments. I just began to realize, when Kelsey asked me that question, that I was living my life this way because I was afraid of the alternative. Now, a few years down the road, God has shown me all the wonderful ways he works his will in our lives. I know now that failure isn’t the end and letting ourselves be motivated by fear of failure or by the need to succeed is never going to garner healthy long term results. It will always deplete you and you will eventually burn out. Maybe it will take 1 year or 50 years, but eventually you will fail in your effort to always succeed.
That’s because we were created to live our lives differently. God never intended for us to be perfect and flawless. We are meant to stumble and when we fail there is value in the experience. When you start to follow God’s guidance rather than live a life enslaved to the pressures of school, relationships, and the future, soon you will find your life filled with satisfaction and joy and safety. That’s what God offers us. That’s how he wants your life to be – not overwhelmed with commitments and responsibilities that keep you choked with fear and stress. Consider the possibility that God desires you to succeed in a way that will be richer and deeper than you ever imagined.
There are many different ways that experiencing failure or other challenges in life can shape and change us. Surprisingly, many of those changes can be beneficial. When we look at Scripture, like this part of Paul’s letter to the Romans, we see how God has already forgiven us for our deepest failures. He has offered us redemption and a future of hope and purpose, and unending grace no matter how many times we fail. He desires for us to have prosperity and success, not by avoiding the tough things in life, but rather by facing them with strength and courage, following him in faith, and overcoming those challenges. That sort of victory is ultimately much more fulfilling.
Dear Jesus, sometimes this life is just straight up overwhelming. I try to stay on track with everything. I work so hard to get it all right. But I fail. I fail so often. Even when people think I succeed, I know when I fail and where the flaws are in my work. Why do you love me when I’m like this? You see all of who I am and you still love me. How can that be? Help me understand your love for me and how following you will help me handle this crazy life of mine. I want to understand and I want to live a life that is not overwhelmed with the fear of failure. Amen.
From September 1991 to September 1993 scientists locked themselves inside Biosphere 2 and attempted to create and observe a completely self-sustaining eco-system. One of the most interesting things they discovered had to do with the trees and wind. To read one popular blogger’s take on it, take a look at this (specifically the Strength comes from struggle section): http://peterbolland.blogspot.com/2011/06/wisdom-of-trees.html?m=1.
The challenge for this week is simple. Well, it’s straightforward, it might be really difficult but, hey, that’s why we call it a challenge!
This week, each day, I want you to talk as openly and bluntly as possible to God. Reveal your heart to him, all your blemishes and faults. It’s important to learn what it means to be vulnerable and laid bare before God our King. It can be a strange and wonderful and revealing time but it takes some practice and lots of courage. I know you can do it!
Read this Scripture from Hebrews 4:12-16 each day before you begin:
The word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. It cuts all the way through, to where soul and spirit meet, to where joints and marrow come together. It judges the desires and thoughts of the heart. There is nothing that can be hid from God; everything in all creation is exposed and lies open before his eyes. And it is to him that we must all give an account of ourselves.
Let us, then, hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we have a great High Priest who has gone into the very presence of God—Jesus, the Son of God. Our High Priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy for our weaknesses. On the contrary, we have a High Priest who was tempted in every way that we are, but did not sin. Let us have confidence, then, and approach God's throne, where there is grace. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it.
Romans 8:1 - This verse is a great one to keep on hand when the fear of failure seems to overwhelm your life.
Proverbs 20:30 - Whether we like it or not, sometime failure is the only way to learn.
Psalm 46:1-3, 7 - God is with us through all things.
John 14:1 - Often a life driven by success is severely lacking in faith. Keep these words of Jesus in mind.
This clip from Friday Night Lights gives a great depiction of how failure can be incredibly painful and tough to go through; but when you’re motivation is to serve God, even in failure there is victory and hope.
Here is the other end of the spectrum with Surf’s Up. We see how Zeke is so crushed and ashamed by his failure that he faked his own death so he didn’t have to face his disappointed fans. How much better our lives are when we find our self worth in our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ who had made us “holy, pure, and faultless.” (Colossians 1:22)
“At one time you were far away from God and were his enemies because of the evil things you did and thought. But now, by means of the physical death of his Son, God has made you his friends, in order to bring you, holy, pure, and faultless, into his presence. You must, of course, continue faithful on a firm and sure foundation, and must not allow yourselves to be shaken from the hope you gained when you heard the gospel.”
Consider what this verse says about how God transforms those who believe in him and follow him. Notice how in God’s eyes “Failure is not an option” means there is nothing you can ever do to make him stop loving you!
Speaking of failure...this cat obviously thought it was an option!
And then there's this series of major failures in the following photos (excuse the low quality, most of these are mobile uploads):