“I never mess up. I’m infallible. I am always perfect, always strong, always on top of things” – said I never.
No, I would never say such things aloud because I consciously know they aren’t true. However, I’ve felt those things. You see, I pride myself in my ability to plan, to do everything with excellence no matter how much I have going on, to be always reliable. It’s an odd thing, because it isn’t an “I’m so awesome” mentality; it is more of an “I’m strong, so I can take care of myself – and everybody else” mentality. I struggle in asking for help, but the reverse isn’t true – I am always trying to find ways to make life easier for everyone else. I consider it my personal obligation to take care of the people around me. There is no challenge or responsibility I am unwilling to undertake – and I don’t consider failure as a possibility. Why? Because I simply don’t fail. Usually, I don’t even find things to be difficult. I am an excellent planner and very capable when it comes to making sure that things get done and needs get met. Ah, infallible me, paragon of self-sufficiency!
But there came a day.
There came a day, just before Thanksgiving, when I showed up to class and discovered I had forgotten an assignment. No big deal, right? It happens to everyone, right? Wrong. It has never happened to me before. Since beginning college, I have had nightmares about that sort of situation: forgetting an assignment, being late to class – basically not doing what I was supposed to do and being where I was supposed to be. It sounds silly, but I would wake up in a panic, heart racing, every time.
Failure – my deepest fear.
My teacher saw the look on my face (one of confusion coupled with abject horror) and quickly deduced that I had forgotten the assignment. A smile spread over her face. Her next words were, “I’m so proud to be the professor who got to experience this!) My classmates fake-gasped and began to tease me about finally having forgotten something. It felt like my world was spinning out of control – my control, that is.
That day, I discovered my own insufficiency. But I discovered something else as well: it was much less horrible than I had dreamed. Since that day, I have not had a single bad dream about missing class or forgetting assignments.
Over the course of my fall semester at college, I have learned a great deal about failure, humility, and the true power of grace. As an R.A. (resident hall assistant), there was a bulletin board that I never completed and an on-duty week in which I had to take a night off, having someone else complete my duties. There is an email that I received two months ago from a friend that I never responded to (my dear friend, you know who you are!). I had to wake up to an alarm twice – something I have never had to do in my entire life. There was an assignment I chose not to do for one of my online classes. I packed to come home, and there was a small menagerie of items I forgot to bring. I simply couldn’t do everything. I am not perfect, and though I know that is okay, I am not always okay with the idea (or rather, the reality) of not being able to accomplish everything on my own timeline and in my own way. Funny how I seem to have endless inherent grace for others but refuse to cut myself any slack.
Humility – learning how to be “okay” with my own humanness and frailty and how to ask for help.
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul speaks of being plagued by a certain weakness and of asking God to take it from him (v. 7-8). I do not think he was wrong in desiring to be released unto full strength; after all, his intention was to serve God better. However, Paul was wrong in his concept of what it meant to “serve God better,” and God corrected his thinking:
‘And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’
– 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Perhaps, my dear friends, it is not our intentions that need to be corrected but rather our methods. If I define failure as not “having it all together,” that says something about my definition of success. Do I really believe that “success” is equated with having it all together? And does such a view mirror God’s definition of success and failure? Is it really God’s desire for me to be self-sufficient? The answer to each of those questions is a resounding “no.” Self-sufficiency leaves no room for God to display His goodness – and not only does it restrict the revelation of His goodness; it also restricts the degree to which His power, His Holy Spirit, is going to work through us. After all, if I am all I need, it renders Jesus’ sacrifice and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit quite useless.
Part of humility involves learning how to accept grace. I of all people am hardest on myself. I am often uncomfortable with the truth of my having limitations that I didn’t choose. But there came a day when I couldn’t do it all. I am living in those days now, and through it I am learning to live in the grace of my Heavenly Father more freely and fully. The prayer of my heart is no longer “Make me strong.” Rather, it has come to be more like this: “Sustain me with Your loving-kindness, for I am frail flesh in need of Your very breath. Show me all the heights and depths, the vast expanse and the gentle whisper of grace.”
May we learn to define success and failure according to the standards of heaven and the heart of our good Father. Life is not easy, but we can learn “to take pleasure…for Christ’s sake” because He is strong in our weakness. There came a day – a day in which grace became an immanent reality – and I want to live daily in that revelation. I invite you to join me on my journey into the depths of grace, for grace is always best displayed in community.