A letter to the one who is failing

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Dear Weary One,

I see you. I see you breathing deeply, trying not to cry. I can see you’re discouraged, disheartened, dismayed. I see you’ve tried, are trying. I know you wish I could not see: it would be better not to have witnesses to your failure, right?

I know you want to give up. I know you want to throw things in frustration, throw words up in protest. I see you suffer the unsolicited advice of those who have succeeded in this thing you are attempting, and how their words of help feel like arrows right now: burrowing deep into this very tender, visible vulnerability.

This is what I want to say to you—and to myself—in this moment: the path of failure is as important as the steps to success. More important than the mastery of this skill is the mastery of yourself as you wrestle with it. There is no growth without struggle. The mere passing of time does not bring maturity. What years give us are opportunities to challenge, channel, and change. That which is untested is not yet approved.

But these, the moments of testing and failing, these moments which are being painfully witnessed: these are the moments that shape us the most. It is in these hard spaces that we dig deepest, discern and test our callings, and in which we learn to lean on the Spirit.

Success cannot be measured by the glow of wedding or graduation photographs. Success in life and love is measured by the hours of testing, when tempers fray, and the nights are long, and patience wears thin. Maybe you lost your temper. Maybe you said terrible things. Maybe you literally threw the book at someone. Maybe you have betrayed trust. Maybe you let down your team. But this moment that feels like failure is an invitation to go deeper and put down the roots without which no tree can truly bear fruit.

A little while ago, I broke my husband’s favorite coffee mug. My children saw the whole thing, and I was glad. Not because I wanted them to see me break things, or because I wanted to do damage to his things … but because in that moment of splintered ceramics all around, they witnessed something come together: a visual lesson that Mommy makes mistakes, and Daddy was sad, but forgave her.

My instagram feed is full of pictures of success: vacation highlights, craft projects, completed meals, perfectly plated. There are cups of coffee artfully arranged in front of open bibles, relaxed feet strung in hammocks with beachy novels in the foreground. The first and last days of school are snapped and recorded. The video clip of the dance recital and the graduation have been uploaded and shared that we may rejoice in life’s joys together.

But in truth, most of my days are not instagrammable, and seeing photos of others’ triumphs often just feel like salt rubbed into the scratches earned by life’s daily rough and tumble. Not pictured: my tantrumming toddler. Not pictured: the burnt dinner. Not pictured: my head hanging in shame as I leave a gathering having spoken out of turn. Not pictured: slamming my laptop closed in frustration on receiving another rejection email.

Yet, my family and friends, and the Spirit himself, bear witness to these moments of so-called failure, and in the moment when they see us laugh at the blackened casserole rather than slam it, I believe the heavenly host cheer it on as a success, even if it means there are cheerios again for dinner. I believe they weep with us when we weep, and burst with pride when we extend a hug in our grief, show mercy in our anger, show perseverance in our disappointments.

Hang in there, Weary One. We are cultivating that long obedience in the same direction. We cannot be overcomers unless there were obstacles to overcome. So we screwed up this time? Let’s not give up: we are in the care of the God of Second Chances. He is Faithful to complete the work He has started in us.

Our God is faithful: and He. Will. Do. It. (Philippians 1:6; and 1 Thessalonians 5:24)

* this post is updated from one I wrote for Sheloves magazine several years ago. Find many more beautiful words from beautiful writers at shelovesmagazine.com

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Photo credit: Christa Norman, Mel Draper Photography, and Jonathan Summer