Fear of Failure

Last week I set out to achieve a long time dream of mine: to get my  motorcycle license. I signed up to take the two day basic rider course and borrowed a bike from a friend. Sounds good, right? Here is the catch, until the day right before the course I had never even been on a motorcycle (as the driver) and unfortunately that moped my wife and I rented one time in Key West doesn’t count. In addition to my inexperience I had borrowed an old 600 cc Crotch Rocket. Turns out it is a fun bike to ride, but not great for the tight turn maneuvers in the course and the final test. The throttle seemed to be an all or nothing contraption, and the slightest turn could send you flying down the course. In retrospect, I am not sure what I was expecting. In fact, until the week before the course I couldn’t have even told you how to shift gears on a motorcycle. Yet, I assumed I would easily walk away with my license. I assumed I would just naturally be good at something I had never done before. Between my inexperience and the bike I was using, I was at a loss. I think I did pretty well all things considered, but the course was a struggle and the test that followed was  kind of a disaster. Looking back a week later I can kind of laugh at my experience and I console myself with the fact that I learned  a lot. I fulfilled part of my desire in the fact that I now know how to ride a motorcycle. While I am sure I will go back and be better prepared next time, in that moment of failure I was understandably disappointed. In a call to my wife on the way home, I found myself complaining. I said, “Why can’t I be good at the things I want to do?” That statement exited my mouth in a moment of weakness and I immediately recognized the folly in it. Thankfully I had the rest of my drive home to begin to collect my thoughts and make sense of what had happened. Still, the whole experience caused me to consider many things.

I can honestly say that there aren’t a lot of things I am afraid of, but failure is one of those things. Next to my fear of snakes, it may be the most crippling fear in my life. I am a creature of comfort and habit. I prefer routine and hate transition. Often while in the midst of learning new things, I am simply longing for the day when I can do it with mastered expertise. As I drove the motorcycle around the course and learned new skills, I was simply longing for the day when I wouldn’t be the learner, I would be the expert. In all honesty I have never been a good hands on test taker where I need to demonstrate a skill. I think part of the reason why is that the anxiety that I might fail consumes me and I do things I would never usually do. As I faced failure once again, I was forced to ask myself why I am so afraid of it. Why do we fear falling down and not succeeding. Certainly for some this fear is so great that they seldom try anything that might result in failure, but why do we allow it to cripple us so much? These were my thoughts as I drove home (in my car) with seemingly nothing to show for my efforts. As is usually the case, I believe the answer is a simple one. The reason we fear failure and fear rejection for that matter is our own pride. We don’t fear the lack of success as much as we fear the bruised ego which often inevitably follows. Most of us are unwilling to admit it, but we have a very high opinion of ourselves and we dread anything that may shatter that opinion. Sometimes we are forced to overcome obstacles in our lives such as being torn down by others. We begin to rely on our pride and our abilities and we become overly sensitive to anything we deem as questioning our abilities. When we live in this world we are setting ourselves up for failure.

The Bible has a lot to say about pride. Probably the most well known verse is Proverbs 16:18 “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” This verse is simply telling us that pride is the predecessor to a fall. The end result of pride will always be to fall. You might even say that the end result of pride will always be failure. When we rely on our pride and our ego, we are setting ourselves up for certain failure. When we build walls of security that rely on our own abilities and accomplishments, we are asking to have them broken down and destroyed. In fact speaking to our own self reliance, I Corinthians 10:12 states, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” Pride offers to us temporary security, but it never lasts. Eventually, being human means that we will fall. We will eventually face something that we cannot handle in our own strength and ability. We may trip momentarily or stumble head long into a head over heals fall. Reliance on pride will lead to a fear of failure and a destructive result when failure comes.

The simple fact about falling or failing is that it leaves us vulnerable. Most of us inherently despise being vulnerable and many of us seem to devote our lives to avoiding it at all cost. We may spend countless hours developing the calm, collected image of self-confidence which we desire desperately for others to see. Often the confident exterior may prove to be at extreme odds with what is actually going on in our hearts. In our hearts the fear is brewing; the fear that we will be exposed as human and capable of failure. You see, we are failing to see failure or struggle for what it really is. Proverbs 11:2 says, “When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.” In this simple statement the writer of proverbs is making a contrast that we all need very much to be reminded of. The proud person when faced with struggle and failure will only find themselves ashamed. They will find themselves overcome with their inability to live up to the image they have of themselves or the image they have worked so hard for others to see. In contrast, the humble person sees adversity and failure as an opportunity for wisdom. The struggle is not diminished, but the end result of that struggle is very different. The person that is of lowly character will see the fall he has taken and learn from it. He will be the wiser for having faced it. The proud man will probably not try again, and may be so overcome with shame that he cannot bear the thought.

In the grand scheme of things my failure to pass the motorcycle test is of little importance. There will be opportunities to try again, and I am trying not to allow my own pride to cripple me. However, these same principles apply to our spiritual life and are of much greater importance and necessity. As ridiculous as it may sound we are often proud when it comes to spiritual things. This attitudes will only lead to fear of failure and paralyzing shame when that failure comes. Ample verses could be quoted here about the need to trust God rather then self, but I will only use one. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly will I therefore rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” What the Church and Christianity needs is vulnerable Christians: people who are willing to acknowledge their weaknesses as avenues of growth. Our weaknesses, shortcomings, and infirmities are opportunities for God to work in our lives. They are opportunities for his power to shine through our lives. The lost people of this world and our fellow believers are watching us. They are not hoping to see people that are pretending to have it all together. They want to know that we are human and that we also need the same power of Christ that we are declaring to them. May God teach us to put aside fear of failure, adopt an attitude of humility, and grow wiser as a result of our shortcomings.


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