Failure is not an option! You know that phrase, don’t you? Does a frowning face and deep commanding voice accompany it in your brain? Whether you have heard presidents, generals, coaches, or parents say it, we all know that authoritative declaration. Failure is not an option. It’s meant to tell us one thing—success is your only hope.
No wonder life can be overwhelming! With a 1000 lb. boulder like that hanging over you, there’s no WAY anything is allowed to go wrong!! Yet, so many of us live our lives with this statement reigning over us. The pressure to succeed is everywhere. We have to get good grades and do well in sports and drama so that we can succeed at getting into college and have a successful career. We need to succeed at being a great boyfriend so that we will have a successful relationship and get married. I need to succeed at this project so that I can be a good daughter and our family doesn’t experience more stress and fail. If I screw this up then things will all fall out of balance and nothing will work out, and all this hard work will be wasted because I wasn’t good enough and I couldn’t succeed and so I just failed and how could I fail when I knew how important this is? I must not be worth having around when I just fail and mess everything up; I suck.
Sound familiar? Well, let me tell you, that is NOT how God sees things. Keep reading to find out more!
“Do you even like volleyball?”
I remember exactly where I was when Kelsey asked me that—sitting on the floor in front of my locker with binders and folders and schedules sprawled out all around me. I had been playing with my upcoming semester’s schedule for most of lunch, while finishing my math homework and half a sandwich and texting my brother to remind him about the orthodontist. Basically, it was my typical Monday lunch.
When Kelsey asked me that question, it actually made me freeze. I started to shoot back a cheery “of course!” when I realized, for the first time in 3 years, how much I hated volleyball! So why was I co-captain of the varsity team? I honestly couldn’t tell you.
My sister had played in high school and college. I had hung around during the summer, conditioning myself before freshmen year. I had really just wanted to meet some people before school got started. Before I knew it I was practicing and then playing a game, and now I was on the team and a good player. They needed me to go to Europeans and then coach put me on varsity my sophomore year! After that, and with my sister off to college, my parents’ interest focused more on me and they were so proud that I had excelled at volleyball. Then I was voted co-captain and I knew the girls not only liked me but depended on me and thought I could help us go on to victory! Of course, I loved volleyball. I would never think of quitting. You’d have to be a crazy person to quit something you are so good at!
“Do you even like volleyball?”
I hated it. And I wanted to quit.
But you don’t quit. You work hard and you don’t give up. Failure isn’t an option and it’s practically a sin to give up. Success and Victory are words I’m comfortable with, not giving up or quitting or failing.
See, until Kelsey asked me that question, my world didn’t even contain the possibility of anything different. I was in honors classes, student government, and a 3-season athlete. On top of youth group and volunteering on Sunday in the daycare, and my cello lessons and Russian tutoring, I had my days packed to the gills, and I planned every second perfectly.
There is nothing wrong with having a full life and lots of commitments. I just began to realize, when Kelsey asked me that question, that I was living my life this way because I was afraid of the alternative. Now, a few years down the road, God has shown me all the wonderful ways he works his will in our lives. I know now that failure isn’t the end and letting ourselves be motivated by fear of failure or by the need to succeed is never going to garner healthy long term results. It will always deplete you and you will eventually burn out. Maybe it will take 1 year or 50 years, but eventually you will fail in your effort to always succeed.
That’s because we were created to live our lives differently. God never intended for us to be perfect and flawless. We are meant to stumble and when we fail there is value in the experience. When you start to follow God’s guidance rather than live a life enslaved to the pressures of school, relationships, and the future, soon you will find your life filled with satisfaction and joy and safety. That’s what God offers us. That’s how he wants your life to be—not overwhelmed with commitments and responsibilities that keep you choked with fear and stress. Consider the possibility that God desires you to succeed in a way that will be richer and deeper than you ever imagined.
There are many different ways that experiencing failure or other challenges in life can shape and change us. Surprisingly, many of those changes can be beneficial. When we look at Scripture, like this part of Paul’s letter to the Romans, we see how God has already forgiven us for our deepest failures. He has offered us redemption and a future of hope and purpose, and unending grace no matter how many times we fail. He desires for us to have prosperity and success, not by avoiding the tough things in life, but rather by facing them with strength and courage, following him in faith, and overcoming those challenges. That sort of victory is ultimately much more fulfilling.
Scripture: Romans 5:1–11
- Have you ever considered what motivates you in life?
- Are there areas of your life where you feel overwhelmed by the pressure to succeed?
- Who is it that places that pressure on you? A teacher, parent, yourself?
- How do you think following God’s guidance and letting his will motivate you would change things?
- Do you think it matters what motivates you if you would still do the same thing?
- What are some long-term differences you see between the two types of motivation?
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Dear Jesus, sometimes this life is just straight up overwhelming. I try to stay on track with everything. I work so hard to get it all right. But I fail. I fail so often. Even when people think I succeed, I know when I fail and where the flaws are in my work. Why do you love me when I’m like this? You see all of who I am and you still love me. How can that be? Help me understand your love for me and how following you will help me handle this crazy life of mine. I want to understand and I want to live a life that is not overwhelmed with the fear of failure. Amen.