Facing the Fear of Failure
Have you ever held yourself back from stepping out and trying something new because the thought of failing at it crippled you? Maybe thoughts like "You'll lose it all", "You are not good enough or smart enough", "If you mess up, others won't accept you", or "You'll be marked as a failure" have ran through your mind before? I don't know about you but when I have personally struggled with the fear of failing, I'd freeze up, stay silent, and run far away from the opportunity that I could possibly mess up. I did this because I believed that staying in my comfort zone gave me some false sense of control. Control that may in some way help me to not experience the disappointment and pain I associated with failing.
What if I told you that you didn't have to let this fear of failure cripple you but that you could rest in a deep and permanent assurance? That this assurance would not bring disablement but could bring strength and hope.
The Bible tells us 365 times not to fear. That is enough times to tell ourselves every day to not be afraid. Some may take this and think "Okay, if I just tell myself not to fear and enforce a positive mindset I'll face my fear and be courageous." As nice as that sounds, fear holds a deeper root that a positive mindset can't cover up. It is important to understand that God tells us by His word not to fear, but let's dig a little deeper and ask ourselves "Why are we afraid of failing?"
Do we believe that failing will define us?
Instead of getting out of my comfort zone where I could possibly fail, my perfectionist mentality encouraged me to attempt to control situations in my own strength so that I would not be seen as a failure. When we step out and mess up it's easy to end up feeling defeated by our mistakes when we aren't looking to who Christ has defined us as.
I remember driving home from a long road trip and listing off all the things I needed to get done in order to feel accomplished with what was on my plate during a busy season. I was filled with anxiety from the pressure I was placing upon myself to not fail. I am not saying that it is bad to be productive and intentional with what God has given us to steward, but my reliance upon myself to feel like I could strive to be perfect was killing me. In the midst of my list making, God spoke directly to me. He said "Why are you trying to define yourself by these accomplishments when I have already defined you?" He wasn't telling me not to be productive, He was prodding at the heart of why I was checking these things off my list. As much as we can accomplish in this life, His definition trumps any definition we can try to attain in our own works (whether that comes from failure or success). But do we actually believe that and live that out in our lives?
2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV)
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."
At the cross, Christ took our place and gave us a new definition, we are now a new creation. Christ beautifully exchanged our sin for His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). As a Christian, you are no longer defined by your sin but you are defined by Christ. We no longer have to strive for a perfect definition, it has already been given to us through Christ. Even when we mess up or feel like we failed we can rest in this true promise and turn to the Lord for guidance.
Do we believe that failure is a bad thing?
In times where the fear of failure arises, we can ask ourselves "What is the worst possible thing that could happen?" God's word promises us even when we fall short; He will never leave us, He will never forsake us, and there is nothing that can separate us from His love (Deut.31:6, Matthew 28:20, Romans 8:38-39). With our definition secured by the cross and a God who has promised to never leave us, any failure can be looked at with a new perspective.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NIV)
"But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
What if we looked at having weaknesses as an opportunity to draw even closer to God and see His grace be sufficient in our lives? Instead of working hard in our own strength to attempt to be perfect. Nothing on our greatest day and best work could even come close to what God can accomplish (He created the earth, for goodness sake). Because of our sin, we will fail time after time to attain perfection in our own strength. That is why God chose to send a perfect sacrifice in our place; His son. With a God who loves us unconditionally, we should long to depend upon Him and see Him glorified in our lives. When we depend on God in our weakness we should be encouraged, as His strength is glorified. Remember that even if the world may see your situation as a failure; He is capable of using any and all things for good (Romans 8:28).
With thankful hearts we can pursue to glorify the Lord with our lives, allowing Him to renew our minds to be in line with His will, instead of conforming to the patterns of the world (Romans 12:2). Though it is an option, we do not have to look to the world for approval but can look to God for the everlasting and eternal approval that has been given to us by His son. For world defined success and riches are temporary and will not last us forever.
Do we believe that failing will determine or even possibly destroy our future?
Ephesians 2: 8-10 (NLT)
"God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago."
When we truly understand that the hope of our future has been secured and freely gifted to us (not based upon our works); we begin to live life differently. The fear of failure no longer has to hinder us or hold us down as we find life, freedom and strength in the permanent assurance of the Cross. Our reward is Christ, He is not a means to an end. Because of Christ we can live in a fulfilling relationship with Him every day, no matter our short comings (Romans 3:23-27). What we may have considered a failure in the moment, has no power to alter or destroy our future that has been given to us in Christ. For this life is not all there is and He is the one who holds our future.
With the assurance of what Christ has accomplished, we no longer have to worry about creating a definition (or a future) for ourselves. In fact, we can point ourselves to the new definition we have been given in Christ. As we understand that we never deserved this new definition but have been given it freely, we should want to live out our lives bringing glory to His name alone. As we hand over our lives and the control (which we so easily hold onto), we can find peace and rest in His finished work.
Will you trust in the finished work of the cross, the new definition and future that has been given to you? Will you believe that even an earthly defined failure could be used for good instead of being used to define you? As we live out lives trusting that we belong to Christ and our definition and futures are secure; we can step out of our comfort zones into a position of peace (instead of fear) to give God all the honor, all the praise, and all the glory.