“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
(Romans 3:23-24 NIV)
What are the failings in your life? Where didn’t you measure up? Who did you let down?
If you’re anything like me, failure comes on a daily basis, making life sometimes seem like a bag of grease-stained laundry. We break our arms with the washboard when the Shout doesn’t stick. We put in an extra scoop of detergent. We set the dial to “hot.” When desperate, we even pour in bleach, turn our laundry room into a swimming pool where we drown in chlorine fumes. In spite of all that scrubbing and care and prayers, oil digs in pretty deep, doesn’t it? White shirts fade to gray. We’re left wearing a black-pitted
testimony that screams, “We can’t stay clean!” wherever we go.
One of my goals in life is perfection. Perfect student. Perfect employee. Perfect son. Perfect follower of God. Sounds impossibly lofty? I agree, especially when faced with my imperfections. Take school: As a college student, I aim to keep track of all my assignments, turn in my best no matter how insignificant or grand the topic, and retain all information thrown at me. On the whole, I do pretty well. I’m a Straight-A student who balks at the thought of late assignments and midnight cram-sessions.
Then I’m up until five in the morning working on my final project for C++ programming. Have you ever debugged a .cpp file? I thought my eyes would shrivel. Not fun.
Then I turn in an essay and discover I’ve misspelled my source’s name seven times. “Wait, Rider is actually Ryder? Oh Lord help me.”
Then I look at my assignments list and see that I’ve forgotten to read a book—an entire book—and have a quiz on it in two days. (That one wasn’t so bad. It was Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style,” a tiny thing and a fun read to boot. I was done in six hours.)
And then I start getting proud, think I am so on top of things and have everything done with time to spare, wag my head at those people submitting assignments at 11:59 p.m. and pat myself on the shoulder for being so much more organized than them—before realizing there was a discussion board due last Monday which I hadn’t once looked at, let alone completed. That one hit pretty hard. Color me shamed.
Failures in school are rough, but I don’t often count them as sin. Sin becomes more prominent when I fail in the “perfect follower of God” arena. Take, for example, Hurricane Irma. The hurricane did relatively little damage to me and my family, though there were plenty of fallen trees and brush to extract. One cleanup day I was carrying a log from my backyard to the roadside. Across the street, my neighbors were getting into their car. Their garbage can was in their driveway. They would have to stop, get out of the car, move the can, get back in the car, and be on their way.
Or, much simpler, I could drop off my log, cross the street, and move their can for them. In fact, God told me to do just that. We are to “love each other deeply,” using “whatever gift we have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:8-10 NIV). I have the gift of hands and feet. God asked me to aid my neighbors.
Instead of following his lead, I scoffed. I was sweaty, aching, covered in bark splinters—not to mention I’m shy. There was no way I was going to drop my work, put myself out there, cross the street, move someone else’s trash can. I threw down the log, turned my back on my neighbors, and marched.
It took me ten seconds to look back. By then, they’d already
gotten out of the car. I winced and walked away, berating the grease I’d just rubbed into the shirt of my life.
I realize that moving a trash can might not be a big deal. It probably cost my neighbors a few seconds of headache, nothing more. My intent is what matters. God had called me to act. I chose to ignore him and to exalt my comfort over serving him. That is definitely sin. It also implies a lack of dependability. What if God called for something bigger, harder? What if he asked me to cross a desert to bring medicine to a sick child? What if he told me I would be martyred for serving him? What if he wanted me to ask the lady walking down the street if she knew Jesus? How could anyone expect me to be a reliable witness when I couldn’t even move a trash can?
They can’t. God can’t. That’s why I repent and try to do better in the future. I have not “already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12 NASB). Failure is just a stepping stone on the way to perfection, a goal God pulls us towards. I keep running the race, building up my track record and learning to follow him in everything I do.
That said, failures can be horribly disheartening, even depressing. It’s especially hard when we’re trying to get it all right, when we think we’re moving towards the goal and only realize later that we’ve messed everything up. Like children on Mother’s Day, we do our darndest. We make breakfast in bed, dust the house, clean the dishes, wash the car. Of course, we burn the toast. We vacuum without plugging it in (to keep things quiet). We run out of dish detergent, so we use the Dawn sitting on the sink instead. And we are so clever when we use the garden hose to make the leather seats and dashboard all shiny. But then comes that mold smell. When all we touch turns to dust, why bother trying to do anything?
Time to remember who God is. Mom sees soggy carpets and a bubble bath in the kitchen. She may get frustrated, flabbergasted, angered—and still she loves her children for trying, even when their efforts are spectacular in their ineptitude. She might even have a laugh at that memory for years to come.
So it is with God. God loves us just the way we are, failings and all. He also loves us too much to leave us just the way we are. Like a mother, he will point out what went wrong and let us know the right way to proceed. Fine-tune the toaster, plug in the vacuum, buy new dish detergent (or just wash the dishes by hand), and keep that hose for exterior-use only. He works with us, coaching us, pulling us, directing us, and laughing with us as we mark our progress.
The journey is hard, but our failures don’t have to be discouragements. Let us run the race with God. When we stumble, make note of it. Decide to do
better next time. Brush off the dirt, take God's hand, and keep on jogging. Even marathons come to an end.