Coming to terms with failure

I sat down, depleted, after preaching on Sunday, promised myself a nap that afternoon after getting the kids down.

But it wasn’t just the exhaustion. My failure consumed me. How many points had I forgotten? Where had I glossed over something that should have been highlighted? Normally I don’t worry about these things, but this time, I felt fragmented, and some of those points and glosses meant something.

Here’s the thing: I had preached on failure. “The kingdom of God starts in unexpected, powerless places on the cusp of failure,” I had said. I talked about the hidden kingdom of God. I talked about the disciples confronted with the reality that instead of glory and power in their lifetime, Jesus asked them to go through hell on earth. I talked about a missionary, Maude Cary, who moved to Morocco in the early 1900s and faithfully served all her life despite personal and professional rejection, despite a lack of visible fruit.

I went home, and during a tickle fight, my son bit my daughter. Hard. Left teeth marks and a bruise and a mommy’s broken heart. This was a first.

Last minute, after taking the kids for ice cream for a special treat, I remembered a free piano concert with childcare at our old church, and we packed our sugar-laden kids into the car (because yes, I am that mom), rushed to the church and followed the lines of Mozart and Borodin and Bolcom, and on our way home, with Annie crying because it was late and she was tired, I wondered what would’ve happened if I’d had the guts to join the studio of the more challenging piano teacher when we moved to Texas. I wondered where my music would be. And I felt sad, toyed with ideas of regret.

Then we came home, and while getting ready for bed, Annie attacked Keegan to zerbert him, and he bit her again.

Later, my husband and I fought (so there it is–Chris and I love each other, we’re committed to each other, and we fight), and I went to bed and tried to read and cried instead because here, too, failure creeps in along the edges.

As you read this, I’m at the hospital with my mom as she’s getting her port placed and her second round of chemo, and isn’t this failure because if the time is fulfilled and the King has come, then where is this peace on earth and goodwill toward men? Why isn’t disease and death and pain eradicated?

I consider the obscurity and, yes, meaningless, of so much of my writing, this thing that I offer God again and again.

I realize that all of this sounds so small because Christians in Syria are being hunted down and killed and women in Dallas are kidnapped and sold into sex slavery and mobs lynch each other in Central African Republic, and in all these places, it appears that the kingdom of God has failed.

But I know that God is sovereign, that he delays because the world rejects Christ, and this is grace because when he comes in glory, he comes in justice, and are we ready to come to terms with that, with our own culpability?

And I know that in all these apparent failures, God is working, healing, redeeming, restoring, and he calls his people to do his kingdom work. He calls me and I offer everything, but the work is not mine. Even this sermon on Sunday is one sermon, and that is not the whole–or center piece–of the worship service. In this, I trust my sovereign God.

So I strain toward the day when God unleashes his power and heals cancer and frees the slaves and reigns in justice and peace and beauty, and meanwhile I take another step, just one, because I know that even in these small things, God’s grace is sufficient.


  1. “meanwhile I take another step, just one, because I know that even in these small things, God’s grace is sufficient.”

    I needed those exact words this morning, my friend.

  2. I wasn’t there, but I imagine even with all of your perceived “failures,” you were uplifting and inspiring to everyone there on Sunday. And also to your children and husband as you showed them your continual unconditional love during the day’s struggles.

    Seeing you and your family was the highlight of my weekend! Your peace and calm is addictive and inspiring. I am carrying your influence with me this week. You may think your actions and writings are “obscure” and “meaningless,” but they touch more people than you know, in ways that can’t always be seen. God is writing a bigger story than we understand, and we are all a part of it.

    Regarding your what ifs after the concert, when I have those thoughts, I think of this line from Under the Tuscan Sun (not Biblical, I know, but still resonates with me): “Any arbitrary turning along the way and I would be elsewhere, I would be different.”

    • You know, I’ve thought that same thing (from Under the Tuscan Sun), which is why I really hesitate to indulge regret. Maybe I would’ve had more music, but maybe I wouldn’t have had Chris and Keegan and Annie and the new one, and that would be so much more tragic.

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