by DR. JOHN L. COX
It’s January,which means it’s time for you to reevaluate your life and begin swearing to change all those bad habits that you’ve been meaning to rid yourself of. Only, if you’re like me, you’ve probably had this conversation with yourself before on other Januarys—unsuccessfully. But by golly, you’re going to succeed this time. No more wasting time online, more regular workouts, consistent Bible reading. “Lucky 2013” will be the magic year! Or maybe not.
Don’t you hate failing? Don’t you wish you could just flip a switch and be different? But we can’t. We still drop the ball—and we all HATE that! We are 21st Century Americans, who, as General Patton said, “… love a Winner!” We are trained to win. We are dressed for success. We are 10 feet tall, good-lookin’, and bullet proof! And if we fail, Monday Night Football has even given us a new Americanism to issue our complaint: “COME ON MAAAAN!” But the problem is still this: You are going to fail sometimes. Let me say it again: You are going to fail sometimes! Everyone has some area in their lives in which they struggle and are unable to “succeed.” Even though many of us devote our lives to never letting others down or never messing up, failing is an inevitable part of life, just like growing old and paying (more) taxes. So our options are to fight it forever, or to learn how to “fail well.”
So why is it that so much of our lives are governed by our fear of this unavoidable thing we call failure? We obsess, we spend hours in front of the mirror, and we blame others—all so we don’t have to face the fact that we sometimes fail. Well, the culprit is that most of us live our lives being plagued by a constant unspoken question: Is it OK to be me? And because of that nagging question, everything that we do—every success or failure—gets presented to “the court” as evidence either for us or against us. Today’s failure becomes “Exhibit A” for the prosecution to further their case that we are guilty. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I submit that Dr. Cox is a complete “nogoodnik” because he tried to write a good article for Metro Christian Living and FAAAAAILED!” Now at that point, Dr. Cox can feel awful about himself because he got an awful answer to his core question: It’s not OK to be him! No wonder we all fear failure! We goof up and then “throw the book at ourselves!” By the way, emotionally speaking, this feeling is called shame, and it governs our lives—constantly.
When Adam and Eve ate of the tree that was called “The Knowledge of Good and Evil” they gained an ability that God never wanted us to have: the ability to know Good and Evil. (Am I going too fast for anyone?) In other words, they developed the ability to judge and to feel judged. Ever since then, we have been scared to fail. As Paul says, we live “under the Law.” You can see this in Adam’s first act after sinning. God asks, “How did you know you were naked?” and Adam says, “The woman, who you gave to me, gave me the fruit and I did eat.” Adam blames God AND Eve in one sentence! (Pretty good for your first day as a sinner, I think. Like making a double play in your first game as a rookie! Impressive!) But this is why we fear failing. We think that we will not be loved if we are bad.
So the options are obvious. We either need to not be bad (which is the solution we all try), or we need to get loved. Which one do you think is more possible? The truth is that, if you look at your life, there will always be areas where you are ABLE, and areas where you are UNABLE. Both exist. Both are unavoidable. And unless you can single-handedly overcome the Fall of Man, and become successful at everything, you will need safety, forgiveness, and love, to survive the disappointment and shame in the areas in which you are UNABLE.
Fortunately, God has a different approach to our New Year’s Resolutions than we do. His approach is to say to his people, “I know that you will grit your teeth and try harder—and you want to know what else—I know that you will fail at many of those things. But I’m the judge in that courtroom in which you are being tried. And because of the blood of My Son, I have made it safe for you to fail. The punishment has already been paid. Case dismissed. You are a failure—and I love you.”
To the degree that we can realize that our core question (Is it OK to be me?) has been answered already, we can stop living under the pressure to succeed at everything. To the degree that we humbly confess our failures to God and to each other, we can finally learn what it means that “His strength is made perfect in our weakness,” and then it really CAN be OK to be me. Warts and all!!
Dr John L. Cox is a clinical psychologist in practice here in Jackson. He works with adults, marriages and children. You can contact him at 601-352-7398.