Success and failure… two topics with which we and our world are obsessed. Think about it. How many times in a day do success and failure cross your mind? It probably happens more often and more subtly than we realize. We long for success in reaching some set of standards, we live in fear that we may fail to do so, and we are devastated by and obsessed with our shortcomings or weaknesses that have caused us to fail. Am I the only one who experiences this?
I’ll admit that my everyday life is frequently driven by this success-failure mentality, so much so that I’ve become oblivious to it. It is always running in the background and I do not notice it unless I force myself to stop and look.
No matter what is happening in my life, the success-failure mentality finds some way to exist. I always feel as if there is some list of standards I am supposed to reach regarding how I socialize, how I spend my time, how I look, how I eat, etc. It is exhausting and impossible to measure up, therefore it always feels like I’m losing.
Recently, my success-failure mentality has been largely centered on my level of activity. Since having hip surgery, I have had to rest much more than usual and through this process I’ve noticed that my rest is almost always accompanied with feelings of anxiety and shame. Even when I was on bed rest and not allowed to walk for nine weeks, I would find myself feeling anxious about failing to be as productive as I “should” be.
How ridiculous is this? I’m recovering from major hip surgery, constrained to a hospital bed, and I am feeling like I failed to spend my day correctly! Why is this? How is it possible for me to always feel like I’m failing?
I think part of this is because I am trying to live by the world’s definitions of success and failure. I am attempting to meet standards that are unattainable and inconsistent. The world says we should be busy and accomplishing hundreds of tasks every day, so I feel like I am a failure when I rest or when I don’t accomplish everything on my to-do list.
The world says we should be busy and “productive”, therefore rest feels like failure. But, this is entirely different than what God says about rest. In the Bible, God commands us to take time to rest; therefore it is a successful act! I have been agonizing over resting because I think I am failing, when I should be celebrating because I am actually succeeding!
We cannot trust the world’s definitions of success and failure.
Can you relate? Do you feel like you are failing to meet a list of standards regarding your physical appearance, your mood, your accomplishments, your social life, or your religion?
I am sick and tired of always trying (and failing) to meet these dumb standards! We are breaking our backs trying to measure up, but there is a problem with the measuring stick! I am not the problem… the standards by which I am ruled are the problem.
So, as feelings of failure arise, let’s ask ourselves, “According to whom? By which definition of failure am I operating?”
One of the biggest problems with this success-failure mentality is that it can create a major shame issue. I have found that feelings of failure can lead to feelings of shame, and feelings of shame can lead to isolation and withdrawal. When we feel ashamed we tend to withdraw in order to conceal our weaknesses and shortcomings, and our relationships with God and others are negatively affected.
So, how can I stop this cycle of mislabeling my weaknesses or shortcomings as failures and sinking deeper and deeper into a puddle of shame?
Perhaps I need to stop seeing my shortcomings and weaknesses as “failures” and I need to stop trying to get rid of them.
I love how Paul talks about this in 2 Corinthians 12. He refers to his weakness/infirmity as a thorn in his side that he begged God to take away but later chose to embrace. He chose to embrace it because he realized that God’s strength is made complete and perfect in our weakness.
What if we embraced our weaknesses, struggles, or “failures” and appreciated them as opportunities through which God’s power can be magnified? How does seeing your shortcoming as an “opportunity” change the way you feel about it?
Weakness is another concept that the world mistakenly defines as “failure”. But really, weakness is what we need if we want to experience the fullness of God’s grace and power. Being weak in God’s strength is one of the best accomplishments known to man. Forget what the world says! Let’s throw out the measuring sticks.
“The weaker I get, the stronger I become…”