Four short words marched their way across the synapses of my mind. Ricochetting like bullets across a battlefield, they attempted to destroy everything good and beautiful in their path.
You are a failure.
This sentence plagues mothers everyday. It is a simple but effective assault. A war is raging. It is time we take the victory.
You are NOT a failure.
This isn’t some platitude meant to elevate your self-esteem. It is fact, grounded deep in the roots of reality. The reality of God’s redeeming love.
I’ve wiped the slate of all your wrongdoings.
There’s nothing left of your sins.
Come back to me, come back.
I’ve redeemed you.
~ Isaiah 44:22 (The Message)
I remember the day I fell prey to the defeating belief that I was a failure.
Depression weighed down on me with an unusual force. Lack of hope, desire, and motivation drove me to exhaustion. I laid in bed listening with paralyzing guilt as my three children played. The ever reliable Fred Rogers watched over them through the pixellated universe of our television screen.
Bowls of dried Cheerios and crusty glasses of apple juice remained, a fixed exhibit, on the breakfast room table. The clock ticked steadily forward. Stomachs bent and growled.
Andy tiptoed into my darkened room and whispered, We were hungry. I made peanut butter. I rolled over and offered my angel-haired six-year-old a guilt laden thank you and promised to come downstairs.
I gathered my strength, washed my face, and slipped into my daily uniform– faded knit pants and an oversized yellow sweater, items meant to be cast away at the end of pregnancy.
I took a deep breath and stepped into the day.
Sitting on the stairs, my sweet Blake, a toddler who seemed to live in perpetual motion, looked up. Peanut butter clung to his face and hands, stucco on an adobe frame. His innocent smile and bright eyes exuded joy as he showed me the remnants of his lunch.
My heart shattered as a million thoughts of failure slammed through my mind. Selfish energy drove me to choose depression over my children. Why did I spend so much time stuck on the past, when I could be shaping the future? I am a failure.
I did the most natural thing I knew to do. I framed the evidence of my failure in the lens of my camera.
Serving as judge, jury, and executioner, I brought this single piece of evidence to court and sentenced myself to a fate as swift and brutal as a guillotine. Off with your head! There is no return! You are a failure!
We do this, don’t we? We rush to judgement and stand in positions that we were never designed to hold. We must learn a better way.
King David penned his song of great confession after his good friend, the prophet Nathaniel, confronted him with the evidence of his murderous guilt. His words show us a better way.
I know how bad I’ve been;
my sins are staring me down
You have all the facts before you;
whatever you decide about me is fair
Don’t throw me out with the trash,
or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
put a fresh wind in my sails!
Heart-shattered lives ready for love
don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.
(Excerpts from Psalm 51, The Message)
How to overcome the lie that you are a failure:
Bring the evidence of your failures to God.
God is the only one with the authority to sit as judge and jury. Through the person of Jesus Christ, he also serves as our defender. We must remove ourselves from these positions and trust God as he executes their functions with justice and love.
Seek mercy instead of condemnation and destruction.
When we fail, our natural inclination is to rush to condemnation and fatal destruction. We perceive that both our identity and our roles are beyond rescue. We must accept and desire God’s grace and mercy instead of flogging ourselves with lies.
Submit to the refining work of God’s holiness.
When you accept the lie that you are a failure, you resist change. Change takes times. It also takes submission to the Changer within you.
Rest in the knowledge that you cannot escape God’s affection.
God does not ignore the heart-shattered mother. He is calling you into his presence. He wants to show you a new set of evidence–the evidence of his love. A love that completed the work of redemption on the cross.
As time passed, I learned to follow King David’s example.
I brought my pitiful evidence before God. I did not cover up the facts; instead I sought mercy. I drank deeply from God’s grace. I learned to stand firm in the reality of my condition–child of God, redeemed, holy, good. With humility and gratitude, I allowed holiness to do its work.
The lies which bombarded my mind retreated. What was once evidence of failure became proof of God’s love.
These days, when I pass my photographic memories of mothering along, I laugh at the horror of a peanut butter stained child. I focus on Blake’s eyes. I acknowledge the bad day. I thank God, it was only a day.
Maybe today was a bad day. A really bad day. Maybe you are standing in the crosshairs of the belief that you are a failure. Don’t listen to the lie. Stand firm in the truth of your identity. Rest in the breath of God’s holiness. You are NOT a failure. You are God’s child, and he notices you.