Let’s just admit it. We’re not perfect, and we know it. But sometimes the not-perfect-ness gets really old. Your head knows one thing, but you keep doing something else. You’ve prayed about it, but it still keeps happening. You feel like a failure at this Christian life, and you’ve got the data to prove it.
As a young woman I felt like a failure for a long period of time. On the outside I didn’t look that bad. I wasn’t out at night drinking or hooking up with many different guys. As a new doctor I was helping people every day, and I was going to church. Nobody would have called me a failure as a Christian by looking at my outward behavior.
But on the inside I felt very different. There were thoughts I was wrestling with, ways I was responding to people, and things I was not doing that made me feel like a failure. I remember saying to myself, “I’m an adult now. I should be functioning better. There must be something terribly wrong with me, and nobody will explain to me what it is.”
I’ve recently heard from a number of you who feel like a failure in some way:
- The university student who feels she is never able to give her best to an assignment
- The diabetic who gained another twenty pounds even while trying to eat right
- The widow who feels guilty every time she feels strong sexual urges and masturbates
- The retiree who still struggles after decades of serious depression
I can almost hear the voices in your head, because I heard the same voices. Maybe you’re better than me at drowning them out, but they’re still there. “God must be very displeased with me. I’m not supposed to still be struggling with this. It’s my fault, but I can’t seem to do any better. There’s something terribly wrong with me.” The good things some other people say about how God has delivered them just don’t seem to come true for you.
Let me offer you some encouragement and hope. I can’t guarantee you’ll never struggle with that pesky problem ever again, but things can get better. Here’s how.
Things to Know
Whatever you feel like a failure about, that’s not the whole story of you and who you are. I know it doesn’t feel that way, but I can assure you it’s true. Here are a few things to be honest about.
- Some of it is NOT your fault. Some diabetes medications make you gain weight. Perhaps you’re not studying in a field that draws on your best God-given strengths. Adjusting to a single life is hard after marriage, and there are female hormones involved. You may have a strong genetic predisposition to depression. Whatever your struggle, you didn’t ask for this. There are some things stacked against you that make your load unique and heavy. And if anyone criticizes you who doesn’t understand those factors it only adds to your pain.
- Some of it is your fault. Not all of it, but perhaps some. Forming new mental or physical habits takes a great deal of energy, but it is possible. If something truly is displeasing to God, He provides the grace for you to undergo the transformation necessary to behave in a way that IS pleasing to Him. We have choices every day, even if our individual circumstances make those choices extraordinarily difficult. God made us moral, responsible human beings with the power to think and to do.
- God is interested in the long-term outcome. It would be wonderful if, after accepting Jesus as Lord, you and I never struggled with sin or bad behavior or weaknesses ever again. But that’s not how most Christians experience the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. God takes most of us through an ongoing process of change, transformation, and becoming. He sees you not only as you are now, but as you will be when He’s finished with you. And He’s not finished yet!
Accepting those truths is a necessary starting point for dealing with our repeated failures as we see them. I’m not at all sure that God sees them that way; He knows what we are becoming, and His love for you never changes.
Things to Do
There are some things you can’t change. But there are some things you can! The truth that you may, possibly, in some tiny way, contributed to part of your problem is actually very, very good news; it means that in whatever small way, to that degree you can do something about it.
You’ve heard the saying, “Doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.” So it’s time to do something new. Here are a few suggestions:
- Ask different questions. Look for a factor in your problem that you’ve not necessarily considered before. Are you putting your efforts in the direction God has planned for you? Are there ways you can make healthier physical or mental habits easier to incorporate into your daily life? Is there some piece of your past that you haven’t dealt with?
- Ask for God’s opinion on your problem. He likely doesn’t look at it in the same way you do. Make sure you know what He has to say about the issue. Don’t rely solely on what anyone else says. For example, James Dobson tells the story of when his father told him, “I’m not sure God thinks masturbation is that big a deal.” Think through your assumptions about what God says, and really listen for HIS voice.
- Get some help. Professional help if necessary. Pray about who to confide in, but someone outside your situation may have a much clearer perspective. There’s so much free information on the internet about almost any problem; get informed. Asking for help is part of taking responsibility for doing your part to address your problem.
- Keep coming back into God’s presence. It’s in God’s presence that you become transformed into His likeness. (2 Corinthians 3:18) Find out where you most sense His presence, and go there often: your personal quiet time in the morning, a church service, some place in nature. That change doesn’t happen in one moment, but it will happen if you keep coming back.
You’re not a failure unless God says you’re a failure. Our own perspective is too limited. Use your negative feelings as a stimulus to adjust your direction, and you may get very different results.
And I’m certain that in God’s eyes, you’re NOT a failure as long as you stick around Him.
Your Turn: Do you feel like a failure in some area? How do you think God sees that part of your life? Leave a comment below.
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