Failure is just a part of the process, and it's not just okay; it's better than okay. God doesn't want failure
to shut us down. God didn't make it a three-strikes-you're-out sort of thing. It's more about how God helps us dust ourselves off so we can swing for the fences again. And all of this without keeping a meticulous record of our screw-ups.
Bob Goff - Love Does
I am taking a big breath before I write this post. Not a medium-sized breath, but a huge breath. It is always a risk to be transparent and never more so than when I talk about my faith, my spiritual life. Never more so than when I talk from my heart-of-hearts.
So I am willing to take that risk today because being authentic and real helps to keep me alive. It helps me let go of fear. What if? What if you really knew this or that about me, would you still love me? What if? What if?
Let me start at the beginning. I am a reader. I usually have several books going at the same time. I love all kinds of books. Yet some books swallow me up, toss me around and leave me gasping for air. Some are so deep and thought-provoking that I cling to each word.
Some, when I read them, feel like someone poked inside my soul and expressed in words everything my heart believed and never had words for.
Reading Love Does, by Bob Goff, did that to me. It was so powerful that the seismic shock waves are still being felt. With almost every chapter I uttered
a quiet and not so quiet "Amen!" In an African-American church I attended, at least twelve wonderful women would have encouraged Bob with a "Preach it!" exclamation. And yet Bob isn't a preacher. He's a person sharing his faith and making Jesus so real, and Christianity so human, that it brought me to tears at almost every juncture.
I wanted to hug Bob as I read his words. I wanted to say what a relief it was to hear someone else say that the God I know and love and serve is not always found in a church, but may be even more real on a mountain top. What a relief it was to hear him say say that Love is an action, it is a verb. When we truly love others we take the risk to be real ourselves, the self God created us to be. And that God, as Bob describes Him, allows for us to be truly human. And being human means that we aren't perfect.
We will experience failure. We are going to mess up, count on it!
Yet nothing, and I mean NOTHING, prepared me for Bob's quote about failure, about screwing up, about messing up big time. That quotation blew me out of the water and I cry every time I read it.
You see, my whole life I have been terrified of making mistakes.
I grew up in a family, bless their hearts, that stopped loving people when they messed up. Kept score of everything. That became extremely judgmental, and critical and condemning of people who didn't live life according to their best guess of how everyone was supposed to live. While they didn't always voice their condemnation and contempt, you could see it in their eyes, in the way they described that person as kind of pathetic or hopeless. They may be on the family tree but I sorta wish I had gotten a different father or mother or sister or brother or friend. It was very polite and toxic, all at the same time.
Everyone knew it. It wasn't really a secret.
The message was this: There is a way to do everything and how dare you be so stupid as to mess up or do it different . There was no place for you here if you mess up, if you are truly human. I still remember my Mom telling me that if I had a fight with my dad that she would have to choose him. In other words, if we had a serious conflict, I would no longer be part of the family.
And I knew that to be true as I looked at my family tree and the broken relationships. Folks who made a mistake or had a difference or just danced to a different drummer were estranged and never spoken to again. Like my Grandpa with my Dad. Like my Mom with her brother Bob.
The message was loud and the message was clear.
We will sit in judgement of you and never let you forget how messed up you are and how great we are, not to mess up like you do.
That message was so powerful that to keep someone's love I learned to hide my mistakes. There I said it. I was so afraid of not being perfect enough to get someone's love that I tried to reinvent myself to be who I thought they would love more. I did that for a long time. I felt so apologetic for who I really was that I hid my real self. Pretty soon I lost touch with the real me.
And what a mess I became. Unrecognizable. I wanted to hide my failures or gloss over them or alter them a bit in an effort to try to earn someone's love. Earn is the operative word here. I never felt like I was enough, just as I was. Mistakes and all.
Have you ever felt that way?
And then one day, thank God, I could no longer live life like that. Being less than authentic took too much out of me. I was finally ready to change. I saw failure in a new way. It was part of growing. It was nothing to be ashamed of.
It took so much courage for me to peel away who I thought others wanted me to be so I could become who God made me to be. No apologies for who He made!
That process of owning my mistakes and embracing my failures gave me new life. It was, as Bob Goff says, "part of the process." So what does that mean concretely in my relationships with others?
It is truly okay to fail; better than okay. Once I believed that, suddenly it is okay for you to know that I am a recovering person, thirty years clean and sober. Suddenly I was and am proud of having the courage to own that for several years, after the pain of a heart-breaking divorce, I drank too much to dull the pain. Not falling down drunk, but not a comfortable amount for me
to drink. This girl that had barely had a drink in college, and never been intoxicated, lost her way. And then, after lots of personal work, and God's good grace, found it again! :)
If in knowing that part of my history, you no longer want to know me or read my blog or be my friend, I am okay with that.
It is more important for me to share those life lessons and be transparent then it is for me to pretend that chapter never happened. I share that in my classes at the college and I cannot tell you how many students come up and in hearing my story are so grateful to know that it is possible to change. It is okay to fail and to overcome and to grow back, stronger than ever. They are grateful to know that God did not abandon me during that hard time. Instead, He was there with me, all along, holding my hand and offering me comfort and love and hope.
Suddenly it is also okay for you to know that I am now, as my true self, exuberant in how I live my life. I am a full-throddle type of gal who loves to hug and sing and tell you I treasure you. I live whole heartedly. I give my heart and when I do you will know you matter to me. I go out on a limb for people and show up big time for those I love. I am no longer afraid of you seeing the real me.
Suddenly it is okay for you to know that I believe that people deserve second chances and third chances and more chances to find happiness. I believe that when they do the best they can, that God smiles. And I believe that when those choices we make don't always turn out the way we wish they had, that God embraces us and doesn't chastise us.
I do believe that God didn't make His love for me, or you, a three-strikes you're out kind of process and I am so grateful He has lovingly helped to dust me off again.
And when someone is judgmental of the hurts and mistakes someone I love makes, I will rear up like an angry Momma bear and defend the person who is hurt by those judgements. I truly believe that if God doesn't keep score of their mistakes and failures, then we should not keep score either.
In fact, truth be told, I am drawn more to human people, people who don't
pretend to have it all together. I am drawn to folks who aren't judgmental and critical of others. I feel more comfortable around people who are real and
embrace other real people. And I certainly like myself a whole lot better when I am real and not afraid. I like myself a whole lot better when I am not
keeping score of the mistakes of others. Sadly, I can be judgmental too. It's as if it passed down in my DNA. And each time it comes up, that critical inner voice that wants to tell others how to do it and do it correctly, I have a strong talk with her. I tell myself it is only my fear talking. A criticizer is not who God made me to be.
I am so, so grateful for the book Love Does. It is worth a second and third read. If you haven't read it yet, get it for yourself for Christmas. Give it to others. It's truly a life-changer and a soul-restorer!
And finally, at this Christmas time, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, I rejoice that the God I know and Love and serve loved me enough to make His love real to me. Christmas, for me, is a time of birth and rebirth.
I am grateful beyond words that my God is a God of second and third chances. He is a God that doesn't keep score. He is a God of forgiveness and love in action. He is a God who loves me just as I am and helps me every day to become all He meant me to be.
May God Bless you and keep you and hold you in the palm of
His Almighty hand!
"If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old." ...