Have you ever let your fear of failing keep you from the courage of trying? I have. After a few setbacks, disappointments, and all-out mishaps, I can easily think to myself, Why try now? I’m just going to get knocked down yet again.
Whether it’s a failure in a relationship, a job, a goal to kick a habit or make a change, setbacks lead to flinches in ever trying again. People always say that if you fall off a horse, get back in the saddle. But what if the horse has ridden off?
Jay’s marriage ended in a painful divorce, and he vowed he would never date again. Sarah got laid off from her job, and she was gun shy in trying to find a new one. In my own life and ministry I’ve tried to initiate new ministries that failed. I’ve preached sermons that bombed. I’ve made decisions that backfired. And every time I add another failure to my life resume, I grow more leery to “get back in the game.”
For all of us who let failure turn to fear, here are a few life lessons I hope will help:
- Evaluate but don’t absorb. Evaluate what went wrong, but don’t absorb the deficiencies into your identity. Learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others, but then let go and move on. In my own life, I know this is easier said than done, but we have to shake off the dust and know that in Christ we can get a fresh start. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past” (Isaiah 43:18).
- Don’t confuse courage with the absence of fear. Courage is the fortitude to face fear. People ask me all the time, “Are you ever afraid to preach in front of a lot of people?” And my answer is, “All the time.” But my fear is not debilitating; it’s just a constant reminder that I can’t do this in my own power. “I can do all things through [Christ] who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
- Norm the process of dreaming, striving, failing, and succeeding. If you make failing a sin, then you will never go through a process of trying, because the risks would be far too great. Granted, when we fail at keeping our character and integrity in tact, we are sinning before God and need to repent and turn back to Christ. But when we humanly fail at trying to achieve godly goals, those setbacks become future opportunities to let us try again in a different way. Thomas Edison dreamed about making a light bulb commercially viable. He kept striving to accomplish that goal, and he failed 1,000 times before succeeding. Past failure is part of the promise of future accomplishment.
- Make obedience your goal, not success. God doesn’t always call us to win; He calls us to try. Humble hearts and courageous spirits manifest in obedience, not accolades. “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2). If we are faithful, we will succeed, even if we fail.
It’s time to reassess your fears. Get back in the game. The sweetest victory is the one that’s most challenging.