“I just don’t like to fail.” That’s what I said to my dear friend, tears brimming the backs of my eyes, sighs building deep down under a rock called Pride. “Well,” he said. “I should think not.” That wasn’t what I was expecting, but I realized it was true: who wakes up in the morning and says, “Hey, oatmeal, try your best to explode in the microwave, OK? Nothing like starting the day off with failure!” Not me. No, not me at all.
Last week, as I mentioned one or two or 100 times, was Deadline Week. Shake-in-your-boots week. I-need-pizza week. (I got pizza.) It was one of those weeks. First, a source dropped out of a story on Thursday. “This is OK,” I said every now and then to remind myself. “It will be OK.” Because there it was, shaking at me in the distance: Failure. “Don’t worry,” I told my boss one midnight as I tried to figure out ways to make the story work. “I promise I’ll do my best.” When I found a source, when the story came together, I got that electric feeling that jazzes inside of you when it works. “I did it right,” I thought. I went to a coffee shop to write, I sipped on a cappuccino as the words skipped my brain, my fingertips seeming to know the right keys, the ones that would shape the whole thing. For three hours, I typed and edited and emailed, and I came up with 1, 117 words that seemed to me to tell the story. I sat back and looked at what I’d done. I showed it to a friend. “Look,” the words did and didn’t say. “Success.”
But then. But then. Another story; another source who didn’t really want to come through. Another email that wouldn’t come. Another voice mail, another sense of despair. I really have no idea why it seemed so hard to pull together. I treated this deadline like all of the others, following the steps that have grown to be so comfortable. And here I was, closer to failure than ever. It was unsettling to say the least.
It rained on Saturday. I waited. I did some laundry. I waited. I checked my email (nothing.) I sent another one. “I just wanted to let you know I’m looking forward to hearing from you . . .” I went to the grocery store. I called again. I waited some more. And the feeling grew. With each passing hour, I began to see that turning nothing in–for the first time–was a real possibility. I wracked my brain: Where had I gone wrong? Should I have called sooner? Should I have answered my email that Saturday three weeks ago when I decided to let it go until Monday? Should I not have eaten the pizza? I said all of this to my friend: “I’m afraid. Afraid of failing.”
“Look,” he said, “Maybe it will happen, and maybe it won’t. Maybe you’ll turn something in, and maybe you won’t. But regardless, you’ll still be just as wonderful either way.” And I realized that what I do matters not one bit; how I do it shapes who I am. And who I am is shaped by the claim on my life. We hear this all the time: “Do your best and forget the rest!” In fact, I’ve said that to many a friend staring failure in the face. But this, this was supposed to be my thing. It’s OK with me if I’m bad at Frisbee. It’s OK with me if I can master only grilled cheeses for the rest of my life. It’s OK with me if stick figures are all I ever draw (they get the point across, no?) But this was what I was supposed to be good at. And I was failing, because without a source, there is no story. And with no story, there’s nothing to read. A blank page, with my name on it. Still, his words rang true. His words slowly trickled into my soul. I began to hear my Father speak.
“Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” —2 Corinthians 12:9
Oh, I don’t think God intentionally withheld that source’s interview. I certainly know He doesn’t take pleasure from seeing His children fail, from watching us hang our heads. But I do think He was ready with His own words as I waited, speechless: “It’s not about what you do. It’s never about what you do. Go ahead and fail. You will still be wonderful to Me.” Please hear this, reader: Go ahead and fail. You will still be wonderful. And why? Well, this of course:
“What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are.” —1 John 3:1
Saturday night, it all rained down on me, this realization that my world wasn’t rocked under a meteor called Failure; regardless of what happened, I was able to wake up each morning, rejoice in the day, and sing. When I climbed into bed at 11:43, I narrated this to Jesus. “Thank you,” I said. “Thank you for your Words. And thank you, always, for mine.”
When I checked my email the next morning, I saw it. “I’m sorry it’s taken me so long,” the email said. And I saw the time stamp: 11:59 p.m..
“Beloved,” God said again, “Please don’t ever forget you are Mine. And regardless of what happens, you are wonderful.”
When I turned the story in, I was surprised at the lack of sweetness, but then, I’d already been shown the success. And each time I think about how little my accomplishments matter, each time I reconsider the idea that I am wonderful—well, I feel this electric feeling all through me, and it feels more like joy than success ever does.
Special thanks to the friend(s) who helped me along on this journey. You’re God-sent.