Have you ever felt like a failure?
Recently this emotion swept over me with the unexpected force of an ocean wave that suddenly knocks you into the sand, tumbling you end over end.
We had been invited over to a friend’s home, and I was running behind that morning. My mind was still whirring from the rush as my 5-year old daughter and I walked into this friend’s house for the first time.
I removed my shoes and my sock-clad feet sank into her plush carpet. Walking through her living spaces, I noticed a quiet and pristine ambience. Unlike my own home, there were no clutter spots and no piles of papers. There was no unruly, barking puppy and no laundry thrown onto the sofa for later folding. None of the surfaces had dust or fingerprints, and she had attractive storage bins stacked in all the right places for optimal organization. It was only 10 o’clock in the morning, but she mentioned that she had just placed a meatloaf in the oven to bake.
My friend had invited us over in order to give me some tips for helping my obstinate 5-year old learn her letters. This was something that I had been trying to teach her unsuccessfully for over 2 years. It became clear that my gentle and unhurried friend knew all the right techniques and had this incredible finesse that would charm the socks right off an angry gorilla.
This skillful poise for instructing preschoolers completely escapes me. I just don’t have it. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’m a negative 5. Seriously. Just ask the preschool director at my church. She will laughingly and lovingly confirm this.
So I’m sitting there at my sweet friend’s table in her spotless home listening to her brilliant teaching techniques, and I suddenly wanted to cry. Cry with the frustration of how I must be failing as a homemaker and as a mother. Ugly cry with the exasperation of how I will never be amazing like she is with teaching my 5-year old. Why couldn’t I be more resourceful? More organized. More motivated. More self-disciplined. More child-savvy. More patient. More… More…
Let me be clear. This sweet friend of mine said and did absolutely NOTHING unkind or condemning. In fact, she was incredibly kind, thoughtful, and hospitable. There was NOT an iota of superiority about her.
Thankfully I held it together and our visit came to an end. As I drove away from her house, the rising tide of negative emotion continued to break over me like the huge and violent waves on a red-flag day at the beach. I’m a failure at homemaking. I’m a failure at mothering my 5-year old. I’m a failure. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I do this right? I’ll never be any good at this. I should try harder. I should… I should….
But in the midst of this mental barrage, I had a sudden insight. All these crazy feelings (and yes, crazy, as in completely ridiculous, lacking logic and not based in reality) I was having in this moment were a result of noticing my friend’s incredible strengths.
I had been brought face to face with someone who was really amazing in the very same places I felt incredibly lacking. And a few years ago, this could have ruined my day and cast a shadow on how I felt about myself for many months to come.
BUT NOT NOW. NOT TODAY.
BECAUSE IN THAT MOMENT, I chose to stop and confess the negative thoughts and listen for what the VOICE of TRUTH was saying to me.
I suddenly had this impression of my strengths (both old and recently discovered) and the things to which God has called me. It was like He was saying to me, Jennifer, you have important things to do. I’ve created you for these tasks. Do you really want to jump out of these and into someone else’s?
And then I smiled to myself, because I’ve never really enjoyed working with preschool age children nor staying by myself at home all day to clean and cook and organize. So why in the world would I want to be super excellent at those things so I could spend MORE time doing them? It was truly laughable.
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Stay in your own lane and run your own race.” That’s the gist of what I was hearing.
Secondly, I had the impression that God himself had brought my friend and me together so that we could be a mutual blessing to each other. It was like He was saying, IF you would stop trying to be like her, you could relax and enjoy letting her help you. I designed the two of you to complement and support each other in each of your races.
Her skillfulness didn’t lessen me. I could rest in knowing that I am great, even amazing in some areas. And I don’t need to feel threatened, hurt, or condemned because of her strengths.
I suddenly had this picture of the colorful keys on a kid-sized xylophone fitting together perfectly and being used to make a beautiful harmony. And in that moment I was able to praise the Lord for my friend’s gifts and abilities. I thanked Him for creating her with strengths in the very areas I lacked.
But goodness, this situation could have turned out quite differently. If I hadn’t let the VOICE of TRUTH speak to my mind and heart, I would have been left in a spiritually and emotionally unhealthy condition. My feelings toward this friend could have been tainted. Even the filter through which I interpreted her future words and actions could have been muddied with the gunk of my own insecurity. I believe this tragedy happens far too often in our friendships.
So let’s ask ourselves some pointed questions: Do we let feelings of failure or self-doubt cause rifts in friendships? Do we develop a critical spirit, pointing out all the negative things about the people whose strengths and abilities threaten our own sense of self? Do we turn the criticism inward, wallowing in feelings of self-pity or making unending excuses for why we’ll never be as good as someone else? Do we have friends and acquaintances whom we secretly resent because of our own insecurities?
The next time we feel like a failure, we have this incredible opportunity to identify and cut off those negative thoughts. Let’s take our raw feelings to our Heavenly Father and ask Him for His fresh perspective on them.
Then listen to the VOICE of TRUTH. The truth of God’s Word says you are wonderfully and marvelously made. It says you are a masterpiece created for the good works that God has planned for you long ago. It says that you have been given an unique race to run. Truth also says we can cheer each other on without losing ground in our own race. [Psalms 139:14, Ephesians 2:10, Hebrews 12:1]
So grab your noisemakers, your pompoms and your megaphone. Let’s protect and preserve our friendships and cheer each other on toward greatness!
End Note: Has my story left you wondering what your own strengths might be? Maybe you think you know them already but are unsure how to put them to use for God’s kingdom purposes.
Would you be interested in discovering, embracing, and utilizing your own God-given gifts, heart passions, abilities, personality type, and life experiences? If you live in or around Cookeville, Tennessee, consider joining me for the next SHAPE class at the River Community Church. Our 6-week journey starts Wednesday, March 28. Email or Facebook message me from my Contact Page for more information.