Freedom to fail

“I am free to fail, because I know that He won’t.

When I was in high school I competed in the annual statewide music competition. In this competition soloists and small groups would prepare a piece and perform for judges and a small audience and be scored based on an objective scale. No one was ranked, but everyone wanted to perform well, and it was a really exciting and nerve-wracking day for all of us. One of the first times I competed my mom came to watch me. I was already so nervous I felt like I was going to throw up, and having mom there made me even more nervous because I didn’t want to let her down. I didn’t want her to be disappointed. I couldn’t look at her at all during my performance. In later years, she didn’t come at all. My dad took me instead because he didn’t make me as nervous.

Thinking about that memory still breaks my heart. I don’t like failing. I especially don’t like failing at things I’m “supposed” to be good at or that others expect me to succeed in. In my life performing has often been intimately connected with my ability to feel loved, so naturally I feared failure because I feared the loss of love.

I’ve seen the same pattern of fear rise up this past year that I experienced back in high school. I’m a PhD student in biochemistry, and my thesis project is… challenging. In short, I’m working on isolating a protein that has been difficult for my lab to do for many years. This wasn’t my original project, but I thought about something that might help the effort and before I knew it, it was mine. I didn’t want this project. It was risky, and all the subsequent experiments I wanted to do (and need to do to graduate) would depend on getting this right. I was afraid of this project because I knew it could fail, and that I had no control over if it failed or not. I’ve spent this past year dragging my feet on it, working on other projects that produce faster and more controllable results and trying desperately to come up with a foolproof plan to somehow make this project work. All the while I hid my fears from my PI (graduate speak for “boss”) because I couldn’t let him know I was struggling. I didn’t want him to be disappointed in me. For the first time in my life, I was faced with something that might really fail, and no matter how hard I tried, there was nothing I could do to make it work. And that was terrifying

I finally talked to my PI about it, and we’ve been talking about alternative plans if this doesn’t work so I can still graduate. I’m feeling a lot better with my fears out in the open and knowing that I don’t need to fear disappointing anyone if this doesn’t work. During our most recent conversation on the topic, my PI pointed out to me that I seemed to already think this project would fail, even though there were so many things I still needed to try and I didn’t have any clear results yet. And he was right. I am struggling to believe that this project could work. I’m struggling to have hope. I don’t know how it will turn out and there’s nothing I can do but keep working on it and see if God blesses it, or He decides to start blessing something else. It’s hard to settle into that, but I’m trying.

My heart was healed in a little way on Sunday that’s helping me settle in a little bit more. I thought about my parents, somewhat absently, as I was napping on the couch. I thought about how hard they had to work to have my sisters and I, the struggles they had to go through because conceiving was difficult for them. I know that they tried for a long time before God finally blessed them. And out of all that work and waiting and pain, they had us. My sisters and I (we’re triplet girls) had been wanted and loved before we were born, so much so that my parents were willing to go through failure again and again just to have a chance at loving us. I have always been loved, even before I existed. And to them I was worth all those failures.

“Before I knit you in your mother’s womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you.” Jeremiah 1:5

If this is true of my parents, how much more so is it of God? If I can see the truth so clearly in this imperfect reality, how much more is that truth perfected in the light of Truth Himself?

And if God can bring such grace out of their trials, can’t He do the same with mine?

I am free to fail. I am free to fail because failing won’t change who I am. It is not a threat to me. And it’s not a threat for two reasons: I am loved no matter what happens, and the Lord will bless all endeavors unto His name. If this is supposed to fail, He will show me another way forward. He will lead me on because He loves me and He has not failed me. I am free to fail, because I know that He won’t.

I know you may be facing times of trial, sisters. Maybe you also feel like failure is staring you in the face and you don’t know what to do with it. Maybe you’ve tried everything you possibly can to control it or change it and you just keep coming up empty. Maybe you’re tired and feel lost and like you have no direction. I know this well, and I’m weeping with you. It’s hard. It’s so hard. I hope that reading this may help you find peace in that. I know it’s giving me some peace tonight.