Free to Fail

romansAnyone else use their computer monitor as a landing place for notes and reminders and such? Maybe I’m one of seven people that has a desktop monitor anymore because it’s 2017 and y’all are toting paper-thin laptops around with no room for ephemera, but my screen is littered with little post-its and scraps. One is a swear word (because I was raised by a sailor) written by a beautiful artist friend in beautiful artist script. One is a to-do list from early December. Or November. September? Meh.

But the rest, the majority, are pieces of wisdom that I need to see every day. They are little scraps of truth spoken to my heart by a God who knows it’s contents and needs better than I ever could. Birthed from prayer in the midst of confusion, paralysis, panic, or whatever little agent of chaos was attempting to overwhelm me at the time, they are small reminders that I am seen, known, and loved by a very personal God.

The one that sits at the very center says simply, “Do the hard thing. Go scared.” It’s just pencil on purple post-it, but it started the whole collection. It is my reminder for when what lies ahead feels too big to tackle or so far outside my skills and abilities that inaction seems better than any attempt to move forward.

Something God has never said to me?  “Do or do not. There is no try.” Because that was Yoda. But also because while fictional alien wisdom may be what lights a fire under you, this sentiment has the opposite effect on me. I think, “Forget you, Yoda. You don’t know my life.”

Actually, I don’t think about Yoda hardly ever at all, but the phrase rings to me of an “excellence or nothing” mentality. We either succeed 100% or we fail. Show up to win or don’t show up at all. To which my heart replies, “So then, like, I should just stay home, yeah?”

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely believe in showing up, working hard, and giving life your all. It’s just that I know that many times the very best that I have to give is still pretty crappy. I have shown up, trembling, voice weak, will feeble, tried the thing, and walked away in tears. I didn’t win the day. I did not excel, and that’s ok. It’s ok because I live under grace.

Once when I was maybe 13, I sat in the living room of a couple from my church. They had opened their home to middle school students for a Bible study, bless them. I don’t remember many specifics from that group. I can’t even tell you what other kids were there. But I can remember exactly where I was sitting and exactly where the husband was sitting when he looked at us all and said, “I want you all to know that you are free to fail.”

It sounded so counter to the messages my adolescent heart had been receiving, even from loving members of my church.  You need to do better. Be kinder. Work harder. Invite more people to church. Talk to more people about Jesus. Give more. Sin less. The world is watching you, kid, and if you don’t show them Jesus in your perfect actions then people are going to hell. The kingdom is counting on you. If you’re not doing big things for Jesus, you’re doing it wrong.

This man, who also spent much of his prayer time flat on his face on the same living room floor, told us that, actually, the kingdom is not counting on us to be these wild Christian success stories. We are allowed to invite people to church and have them say no. We are allowed to plan giant outreaches and have only one person show up. We are allowed to commit our time and effort to one big thing, whatever that may be, and have it go up in a ball of flames. We are free to fail, as long as we show up. We show up in our weakness, and the miracles are God’s responsibility.

When God sent Moses to plead with Pharaoh for the release of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, He pretty much told him the first try was not going to work. God told him, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.” (Exodus 4:21, NKJV)  Moses, who was also wanted for murder back in Egypt and who had so much fear in his heart regarding the task before him that he had actually argued back and forth with God’s audible voice in the burning bush, was guaranteed that even if he followed God’s explicit directions, walked in faith straight up to the throne of the most powerful man around, and performed a crazy miracle, that he would be turned down and rejected.

And that’s how it went. Not only did Pharaoh say no, he made the lives of the Israelite slaves significantly more difficult and the nation he had come to liberate spoke against Moses. If he was looking for affirmation from his people, he did not get it after that first try. He failed big and there was no, “It’s ok, sport. You’ll get ‘em next time.”

I always think, “Is that something I could bear? Show up, do the big hard thing, fail spectacularly, have my whole community criticize and question me, and then come back and do it again?” Honestly, probably not. But Moses and Aaron did it over, and over again. They walked up to the man holding them all captive, did some super bizarre (and usually gross and stinky) things, were flatly rejected, and then showed up to do it all again. A whole lot of try followed by a whole lot of fail. God’s response? Do it again. This time with locusts.

God has never asked me to turn rivers into blood or dust into lice or cause a nation to suffer with boils, and that is completely ok by me. But He asked me to do things I was certainly not equipped to do. He has asked me to do things that scared me. Rarely do those tasks work out the first try and when that happens He usually meets me with a, “First round down, back in you go!”

Just like Moses and Aaron, the success or failure of the endeavor does not hinge on the skills and abilities I bring to the table. Moses spent a good chunk of time trying to convince God he was the wrong choice. I am a nobody. This task is too big for me. Nobody will believe me. This sounds like it’s going to require a ton of public speaking and I am particularly very bad at that. Moses was scared, which is entirely understandable.

When Moses expresses these doubts to God, God does not say, “Oh, don’t say that! You’re amazing! I would not have picked you if you weren’t truly an astounding orator. Your wit and wisdom are dazzling and your voice is pure honey.”

Nope. He says, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord?  Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.” (Exodus 4:11-12, NKJV) You don’t tell Me what you can do, I tell you what I can do through you.

God invited Moses into His work of setting captives free, of liberating His people, and doing it all in the strange and miraculous fashion that proves it is only something God can accomplish. He is still working for the freedom of His people — freedom from sin, freedom from shame, freedom from judgment, freedom from fear — and I know He’s inviting us into that work. Probably He’s not going to ask you to kill the livestock of an entire nation and flood their homes with frogs, but I am willing to bet, if He hasn’t already, He will ask you to do something that’s at least just a step outside your comfort zone. He will set before you a task that is only something you can accomplish through His grace and ask that you trust Him to see it through.

It could be anything. Speaking up for injustice, being honest with your family, standing up for a coworker, making a change in your parenting, stepping into missions, joining a small group, asking someone to lunch, asking for help, giving more than feels comfortable, talking to a stranger, or simply getting out of bed.

Do the hard thing. Go scared.

Did Moses walk up to Pharaoh full of confidence, declare the words of the Lord in a voice strong and clear? Maybe. But I think his heart was probably pounding and his palms were sweaty. Actually, we know he didn’t. We know Aaron did the talking because Moses was so scared, even after God showed him His power through visible signs and from the burning bush told him He would provide what he needed, Moses begged God to please send someone else.

God’s plan was to set those people free, and He did it regardless of whether or not Moses stepped fully up to the plate. There was not a barrier in the world going to keep God from accomplishing His purposes — no king powerful enough, no fear strong enough, no deficit of character or skill wide enough. However, while He brought plagues and parted seas to free His people, that was by no means the limit of His power or the end of His work. There is always more. There’s a whole lot of Bible left after Exodus and bigger and better things come later. There are a whole lot of things left for you and me, too. It is a new year and there may be a big yes or two around the corner. This very day is not over and there may still be a yes, big or small, in the hours you have left. If He has asked you to move, He holds whatever you need to get you where He wants you to go.

I am never enough. I am never smart enough, strong enough, generous enough, kind enough, skilled enough. But I have been gifted with more than enough.

Grace is more than just avoiding hell. It is an invitation from an infinitely loving God to let Him step into all of our shortcomings and fill them with Himself. More than just forgiving the bad, it empowers unbelievable good. The offer is not just to let you skirt into heaven by the skin of your teeth, the offer is to have life, abundant, full life. (John 10:10)

We are just asked to go. Go and trust. Do the hard thing. If you’re scared, know you have something in common with me and Moses and God works it out, regardless. There is not a failure in you so big that God will ever change His mind about you.

Romans 8:31-39

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.