Go Ahead, Fail

“It’s okay to fail.” We like to say that where I work. I’ve also seen that said here and there on social media. To say it’s okay to make mistakes seems to make sense. But I have to confess, I’m not sure I find it acceptable to bomb.

To be honest, I don’t know that I like the idea of floundering at all. Healthy or not, I lean heavily towards perfectionism, so this notion of acceptable messes does not come easily to me. It certainly does not bring me the same joy I feel when I reach a goal. And I don’t see anyone being rewarded for failing – so how can it be okay?

I think we need to start with the illusion of perfection. It’s a fantasy to believe anyone (aside from Jesus Christ) is, or ever was able to avoid failure. Like it or not, every one of us falls short. (Romans 3:23) We do it often – sometimes in great and disastrous ways.  

As for me, I think I could compete with Paul to claim “chief sinner.” (1 Timothy 1:5) There have been so many awful decisions. So many wrong turns and bad outcomes. Sadly, it would be a long and shameful list if I wrote out every failure from my past. I’m not exaggerating, just stating a fact. My past is ugly.

When I became a Christian, I knew I was forgiven for all of it. I understood grace as a concept, but, still struggled with the facts of my life. I wasn’t really free from my past because there is a difference between what we understand as truth, and what we know in the depth our souls.  

Thankfully, though, while failures are part of my life, they no longer define me. I am convinced that Jesus’s death on the cross moved every sin and failure far away from me. (Psalm 103:12) Because of his willingness to pay a debt I could not, I am freed from the consequence of my sin, my failures no longer keep me in bondage.

So, you might be wondering how I got here. What specific steps drove me to this incredible place of freedom? Easy… I read God’s word. But I didn’t just read it, I believed it. You see, the moment I became a Christian I believed God’s word was true. Now, understand, that belief did not immediately change my thinking about my past. I still struggled. I read, but I didn’t believe it was true for me.

One day, while reading scriptures about how God sets us free from our past. (Galatians 5:1) I understood what the words meant. But at that moment I was confronted with this: If I believe God’s word is true, then why do I not believe it’s true for me? If God says I am forgiven and my past is no longer remembered, then it has to be true. (Isaiah 43:25)

I could no longer hold my past over my own head. Whether I felt it was true or not, I had to believe. I chose to believe and it changed everything… except my past. What I mean is that knowing God and believing he sets us free from our sins, does not erase what happened. I don’t forget my past and neither does anyone else who knew me back then. What it does is filter everything through the lens of the cross. This is mercy, plain and simple. (1 John 1:9)

Knowing mercy like this, I am free from the fear of failing. And, I will fall down again. Not by choice, but by nature. As a human, it’s in my DNA. I will mess up, and I will expect God to forgive as he has promised. (Matthew 6:14-15) And this is the promise for every believer.  

We are going to fail and it’s okay. And if we have already failed, our past is reconciled through Jesus. Choose to believe that God’s promises are yours and you will find a peace that is beyond what you can reason. (Philippians 4:7)

 

Filling the Hole

Throughout my life, I’ve found myself looking at people or things to fill the empty places in my heart. In my defense, I don’t think I’m completely alone in this. As humans I believe we are born with a hole in our being that must be satisfied, so we look around for something or someone to satisfy where we feel empty. For most of us, it’s a deep ache and drives many of our decisions.  

As Christians, though, we likely know that God alone is capable of truly satiating that empty spot. (Ephesians 3:19, Numbers 14:21) We were meant to find life through God. But, even if we believe that’s true with every fiber of our being, we often still look for something tangible to furnish happiness.

It’s not that we don’t want what God offers, it’s just that we want our desires filled with something palpable. There is something in us that always yearns, so, we grab onto whatever solid thing is in front of us. We look to what we can see, rather than set our hopes on an unseen force – even if that unseen force it what’s best for us.

I’m no different. You’d think I’d know better, but I often forget that what God offers always surpasses anything I can come up with on my own. (James 1:7) Often, in my haste to find relief for the emptiness I feel, I fill up with people or things. And the feeling I get never lasts because even the best people or things cannot sufficiently fill the bottomless pit in my soul.

We don’t just look to people of things, either. I know I’ve tried to find life in some good and not so good ways. I’ve tried respectable things like sports, a career, motherhood, marriage. Unfortunately, I’ve also tried some destructive things like drugs, alcohol, and sex. Maybe you’ve tried different fillers too? There’s a whole gamut of things you may have attempted. Or maybe you are still trying them? Whatever it is, these things may seem to work, but, the effects are usually temporary. Usually, these devices require us to return for refilling at frequent intervals to keep them working.

Anyway, good or bad, acceptable or not, nothing but God can plug that deep, empty place. It really doesn’t matter what it is – it will never really give us life because only God in us works. What we find on our own, is never going to adequately furnish what He alone can. (Psalm 81:10, Ephesians 3:17 – 19) Our only hope of filling the void is looking to the one who created us in the first place.

You see, we were designed with an empty space that only God can fill. CS Lewis said: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”  So our only hope of plugging the hole is through God. He alone is capable of filling the place He created.

Beautiful Mess

Everything we do, is filtered through the experiences we have throughout our lives – whether good or bad. Being alive guarantees each of us a mix of positive or painful, happy or sad, gain, or loss. Intentional or accidental experiences mix together and embody who we are. It’s a road that begins at our birth, and shapes every experience that comes after.

We all know that one person who’s life seems untouched by sorrow. It’s tempting to believe there are people who escape hardship in life. But, in reality none of us is exempt. A life lived without trouble does not exist. (John 16:33)

It’s not all bad, either. Truthfully, most of us experience a mix of good and bad. Difficulty is guaranteed, but usually so is joy. We have sad times and happy times. We go up to the mountain and down in the desert. We gain and lose… and it all combines to create a beautiful tapestry of color that makes up our lives. (Ecclesiastes 7:14)

Sometimes, though life brings more bad than good. What happens when tragedy and pain are experienced in greater proportion than joy and happiness? What happens to the human heart when life is overwhelming bad? If a life begins in hardship, is the rest of life doomed to be viewed through the filter of pain? If every message says “you are unwanted, unloved, a mistake,” can there be any hope?

I say yes, there is. I know because I have experienced what happens when God reshapes the message life gives. He alone can fix the broken. He alone can change the trajectory of our lives. He alone promises to take the burned, tragic ashes of life, and replace them with beauty. (Isaiah 61:3)

In the 1950’s, while pregnant with me, my mother sought to have a back alley abortion. She wasn’t evil, she was tired and overwhelmed, and it seems like a solution to her problems. My father and his sister found out, intervened, and in the summer of 1956, I was born. My mother was stopped from making a decision that would have stopped my life before it began. Unfortunately,  it began a journey of physical and verbal abuse for me that lasted until I left home at 17.

My mother was a broken individual, who inflicted her pain on those around her. Forced to follow have a child she did not want, she viewed me with resentment. For as long as I can remember I was reminded daily that her life would have been better had she been allowed to abort me. She made it clear I was the biggest mistake of her life with words, and beatings and neglect.

I tell you this not to extort sadness or pity from you. In fact, I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I tell you this to help you understand how far down I was. This beginning to my life taught me I was unwanted and unloved, and it impacted every choice I made for a good portion of my life. In short, my life was a mess. I came to know God when I was a dirty, broken, sad, and hopeless woman.

If the story ended there, it would be tragic – but it did not. All my experiences have shaped me into who I am today. (Romans 8:28) God uses my story to help others, and He can use yours too. The beautiful thing is that God chooses to use broken vessels like us to do His work. And through that work, He gets the glory. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

There’s an entire story behind the crooked path that got me from there to here, but I’ll save that for a future post. What’s important is that He changed me, and He can change you as well. He alone can take a mess and turned it into a beautiful message.

 

When Hope and Fear Collided

Hope is a powerful thing. It begs us to believe what we cannot see. It has the power to make us stay longer and believe stronger. Hope let’s us dream and feeds our vision. In the extreme, the Bible says without it we perish. (Psalm 29:11)

Fear can be equally powerful. It paralyzes the strong and confuses the wise. Fear causes us to run and hide. (Genesis 3:8) Countless Bible stories serve as cautionary tales and sad examples of the impact fear has on us. (Jonah 1:1-17, 2 Samuel 11, Proverbs 22:13)

The Bible story of the man at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5: 1 – 8)is a story where hope and fear collide and a life changes. The location in this story provides a clue. Bethesda’s meaning is “grace and mercy” – the very essence of salvation. It’s the story of man and his need for a Savior. And, it’s a story of the human condition.

The man in this story is described as being “lame” for thirty-eight years. What’s interesting is that we don’t know what that lameness is. I propose we don’t know because like him, we all have some kind of malady be it physical, psychological, or spiritual. So many times we are impeded by our lameness and just like this man we sometimes carry it for years.

I don’t know about you, but it fascinates me that for thirty-eight years he went to the Pool of Bethesda every day. The story doesn’t say how he got there – just that he did. Did he walk? Did he have friends or family carry him? However he managed it, I believe it’s another clue. Think about it. A man goes to the edge of grace and mercy for 38 years. Something keeps him going back year after year. I propose it’s hope that draws him there. But why doesn’t he get in and receive his healing?

This is where I think the story unveils his fear. Here’s why. When Jesus asks him if we wants to be healed, he has a litany of excuses as to why he can’t. Think about times where fear stopped you. Did you honestly say “Nope – I’m not going to. I’m scared.” Or, did you reason it away with excuses? Truth is, it’s sometimes easier to identify all the reasons “it” can’t or won’t work than to admit our fear.

Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t seem to pay attention to the guy’s feeble reasonings. Instead, he says, “pick up your mat and walk.” Wait, that’s interesting, isn’t it? Jesus doesn’t tell him he’s healed. He doesn’t rub mud on wherever the man is lame, and he doesn’t tell him to touch his robe. Nope. He just tells the lame man to walk. I think it’s another clue. I think the lame man had been healed for a long time. He just needed to get up and walk. He was laying by grace and mercy, and he just needed to take it.

There’s power in this story. How many of us have lain by our healing. How long have we stayed lame when hope was right there just waiting for us to take it.

I know I lived like that for most of my life. For years and years I waited – in my own lameness – until a loving Savior looked me in the eyes and said, “Walk!” I lived fearing what it might mean to be healed, until hope won out. On that day fear no longer ruled in my life. On that day I walked past fear in to grace and mercy. On that day I saw fear and hope collide.

Are we a friend of sinners?

I love this line from “Jesus Friend of Sinners” by Casting Crowns.

“No one knows what we’re for only against when we judge the wounded
What if we put down our signs crossed over the lines and loved like You did”

It happens, though, doesn’t it? No matter how much we say we don’t, the truth is we do judge non-Christians with Christian values. And that’s wrong, my friends.

When people who dont know Jesus come into church we can’t expect them to measure up to some perceived level of “goodness!” We’re called to love messy, people, arent we?

Nothing breaks my heart more than watching someone who messes up run as far as possible from the church. Why do you think that happens?

I believe in our attempt to help, we often times come at them from our our Christian understanding of repentance. And sadly, that only causes them to turn away in shame. I believe this is a big reason non-Christians don’t buy a word we say.

We can’t say we love people, welcome them into the church, and then look down on them when make wrong decisions.

I came to the church messy and dirty. I was loved with no expectation to clean up my act – and for that, I am so appreciative. Bit i just watched someone have a totally different experience. For that I’m deeply saddened.

So this post is for all my Christian brothers and sisters. Please, remember the mercy you received. Tred lightly when you’re tempted to judge that person sitting next to you.