“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the flood engulfs me.” Psalm 69:1-2
WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE A FAILURE
Have you ever felt like a failure? I don’t mean “oopsie-daisy”, I mean heart-wrenching pain that swallows you up. I mean exhaustion and darkness when you lie down at night, followed by tears on your pillow and heavy limbs when you awake in the morning. I mean pain that crushes your spirit.
My life has been chock-full of successes and strong relationships and multitudes of blessings. I’ve been through some dark spots: one in my teen years, and then twice following two heartbreaking mid-term pregnancy losses. But for the most part, I’ve been characterized by a positive outlook, a spirit of thankfulness, and a cheerful demeanor. I’ve been the encourager, the one offering hope and counsel, a hug, a prayer, and a homemade chocolate chip cookie.
I’m a perfectionist with high standards and rigidly unrealistic expectations of myself. I was an over-achiever from my youngest years: good grades, involved in many activities, a peace-maker who tried to keep everyone happy at all times, driven. No one ever held me to these standards; they were self-imposed. I was and am the stereotypical firstborn child.
I carried these expectations into adulthood. Even though I decided against college and married young, I brought all my ideals and determination into marriage and motherhood. I was going to be the Ideal Wife, the Ideal Mother, the Ideal Friend and Daughter and Sister and Church Member. All the ideals. It’s a lot of pressure to place on oneself, a lot of pressure to place on the people I love.
Things went along pretty swimmingly, barring a few bumps in the road. Until suddenly things did not go along swimmingly. At all.
I’ve come off of almost a decade of heartbreaks. Like a tsunami, it’s seemed as though I’ve had wave after wave of crushing disappointment, confusion, and upheaval. In the midst of these personal heartaches, we’ve also moved twice: once from the place I hoped would be our forever home, and then again eighteen short months later. I’d settled in cozily, built real sustaining friendships, and grown deep roots in our assumed “forever home”. I left behind my frequent contact with those healing relationships; I lost the people who cried with me and prayed with me and called to check on me.
I felt adrift in a dark, tumultuous sea.
I prayed–desperate, wrenching prayers–that seemed to bounce off the ceiling.
I felt my faith–which had always been rock solid–beginning to waver.
Every time I felt I was beginning to regain some equilibrium–to find that spark of joy–another wave would crash. When I felt things could not get worse I discovered that yes, indeed, they certainly could.
If this sounds Highly Dramatic, I’m just going to tell you now: you’re going to have to get used to it. I’m a feeler. I was once described by a counselor as “emotions on steroids”, a description that stopped me in my tracks with its accuracy. It helps to know that I…ehem…tend to run on the slightly emotional side, because I’ve learned to talk firmly to myself. When things look so dark that I think they’ll never be right again I remind myself, “These are strong emotions, and that’s okay, but they aren’t necessarily telling me the truth.” I’ve learned to stop and think before I speak or take action. But the point is that I spent a decade in a tough place. Not just tough for a highly emotional person, but Tough with a capital T. Tough times. I tend to be a worrier, but the problems that were thrown into my life were problems I’d never even thought to worry about! They were not even on my list of possibilities.
Here’s a thing I’ve found to be true when you feel like everything in your life is crashing around you, when you feel like a FAILURE: It is isolating. And at least for me, I lost my voice.
Of course I don’t mean that I literally lost my voice. But figuratively, I felt I had no right to speak on anything. Why would anyone want my opinions, advice, thoughts, or even comfort when I was a failure? Why would anyone want to hear about my faith when I was struggling to keep my head above the water? Why would anyone want to hear anything I had to say when I obviously had nothing of value to offer? Why would anyone want to be my friend? I was broken down, useless, ugly, barren.
Failure is lonely.
I got some counseling. I read a lot of good, helpful books. I listened to a lot of sermons. I prayed a lot. I asked forgiveness for some things, forgiveness from both God and from others. And I had a mind-blowing realization that has revolutionized my thinking in many situations.
I was speaking to the counselor (the one who described me as Emotions on Steroids), about a difficult situation. He asked me a question I’ve never been able to forget:
“What makes you think this is your problem to solve?”
At first I was incredulous and indignant (in my mind, of course. I still like keeping the peace; I’m certainly not going to argue with a counselor, for Pete’s sake!). But…”not my problem to solve?” What in the world? I’m the MOM, of course it’s my problem to solve! Sputter, flounce, huff. Still, over the next week, I could not get that question out of my mind. “What makes you think this is your problem to solve?”
And I realized that many problems cannot be solved by me and should not be solved by me, because everyone needs to take ownership of their own problems and choices. I can’t make anyone else’s decisions or choices or make them be happy if they are not happy. Some things are not my responsibility.
Moms and wives, is this as momentous and freeing to you as it was to me? When I’m sidestruck by news, this is now one of the first questions I ask myself. Is this my problem to solve? What is my responsibility here?
Of course, I still pray fervently for decisions and situations and am quick to offer whatever assistance seems reasonable and actually helpful. If I’m asked for advice, I give it. But I absolutely do not beat myself up for things that are not my responsibility, and I don’t allow others’ decisions or actions to make me feel like a failure. I’m not going to live under that black hole of burden.
Now…I believe I am not alone in my decade of failure, shame, and loss of voice. I’m slowly reclaiming my peace, my joy, and my voice, and I want to encourage others to do so.
I know some of you feel like a failure. Maybe you worked hard, but despite your best efforts your marriage is crumbling or has already imploded. Maybe your child was injured or abused and you were unable to protect them. Maybe you or a loved one is struggling with depression. Maybe your child is dealing with a prescription or street drug addiction, or they’re in prison or on trial. Maybe your former best friend won’t speak to you or is spreading lies about you. Maybe your daughter was raped and you feel you failed to protect her. Maybe your adult child is a cutter or has anxiety or is an alcoholic. Maybe your grown children have walked away from the faith and you are broken hearted and agonizing over what you could have done differently. Maybe your children won’t speak to you. Maybe you hurt someone deeply and have repeatedly asked forgiveness but they refuse to reconcile with you.
When you’re a flawed, frail human living and loving in a broken world there are so many ways to feel like a failure, aren’t there? And when you’re a flawed, frail human who’s failed, you want to hide. I see you there with your broken hearts and dreams, with the dazed expressions on your faces. I see your hopelessness. You never thought you’d be here, but here you are picking up the pieces. You know what? You have so much to share. We need your voice out here. It’s time to stop pretending that we’ve got it all together and admit that we’re beautifully flawed, gloriously imperfect, humbled by our frailty, and still determined to serve, love, give, and share, ready to let the Light of God shine in the darkness. You are valuable right there where you are, in the middle of your mess.
You hear me? You are valuable right there where you are, in the middle of your mess.
You are valuable right there where you are, in the middle of your mess. Yes, you. I’m talking to you.
Let’s get to work now and fix the problems that are ours to fix. Let’s ask for forgiveness, humbly, without excuses, without defensiveness. Let’s find our joy and find our voices and be humbly broken and honest, ready to offer encouragment and prayer to other broken sisters. Come out of the darkness and into the light where you can bloom. We need you.
I told you it was about to get real in here.
Are you assuming responsibility for problems that are not yours to solve? Are you feeling like a failure and beating yourself up? Have you lost your voice, your sense of purpose, your hope? You may need to find a good Christian counselor or a trustworthy friend who will speak truth into your life. Right now, please feel free to request prayer and encouragement in this friendly community. You may also enjoy the follow-on post, Tips for Troubled Times, with suggestions for self-care during stressful seasons of life.