The Fear of Failure

Going Higher

Recently, I told God that I was scared to be elevated to a higher position of influence. I might fall into pride or lose the intimacy I have with Him. I might forget that I needed God and become the kind of person who shouldn’t be looked up to. Going higher can do that to people. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I’ve even seen it in myself.

“Maybe I don’t want to go any higher,” I whispered to God. “I don’t need any greater recognition or influence. I like where I am.”

What if it’s not just about you? God asked.

“I’m scared,” I answered.

Failing Fantastically

God listened to my articulations of my fears, as God always does. Then He proceeded to pinpoint the core issue, as He has a knack for doing.

You’re afraid of making a mistake, God said. It’s the same thing you’re usually afraid of. You’d rather stay where you are than try something new and fail. But making a mistake isn’t the worst thing. To illustrate His point, God pointed to Peter, the disciple who denied Jesus. Peter was a mess. Remember all those mistakes he made?

I did. In fact, Peter’s blatant failures are what I’ve always liked about him. Reading about him makes me feel better about myself. He was passionate and loyal, yet so obviously human and imperfect. He was impulsive, often rebuked by Jesus. (“Let’s set up booths so people can come worship Elijah and Moses!” “No, Peter.” “I will never allow you to die, Jesus!” “Get behind me, Satan.”)

Yet remember what I called Peter? God said. Rock. He was the rock on which I founded my church. I could have chosen anyone, and I chose him.

Not for the first time in my life, it began to dawn on me that my perspective of this issue wasn’t quite aligned with God’s.

As a child, perfectionism often paralyzed me. I wouldn’t know what to draw, so I wouldn’t draw anything. Having a poor color choice immortalized in a coloring book disturbed me. I preferred my Disney princess coloring book that included tracing paper. Rather than color, I could simply follow the pre-determined pathway as perfectly as possible.

Perfectionism is part of what fueled excellence in my music-making and writing over the years, but I’ve also had to learn when it is time to let go. My backstage pep talk before a piano concert was always: Be IN it. Mistakes don’t matter.

In “real life,” however, I’m still learning the art of letting go. Mistakes cost a little more when there are people, relationships, and morality at stake.

Making a mess

I have felt like a failure a lot lately (as I shared in my previous post about love). And while part of me recognizes that those feelings point to a commendable effort on my part (at least I’m still trying!), at the end of the day, it’s been painful.

No one knows how much I’ve wanted to give up more than God. Yet God refuses to give up on me. Witnessing God’s patience and continued hope in me firsthand has, in itself, taught me a lot.

But also, there is this: I (and you) were created to do significant things and be significant people. Not necessarily to do flashy things or be famous people. But we were created for significance. It’s who we are, it’s how we were designed, it’s the destiny God wrote for us. But becoming the people we were created to be requires a process, a messy one. It’s lifelong, and it’s not really about reaching a particular destination or height of achievement. It’s more like something inside of us is being unlocked.

I’m learning to hate the messy process less. Because God doesn’t hate it, and hating it wastes a lot of my energy. Here’s how I’m currently shifting my perspective:

Truth #1: There is no rush.

To get from point A to B. To become better than you are today. To become who you feel in your bones you are supposed to be. To be honest, I want to be perfect. I feel that God deserves a perfect daughter and servant. But the truth is that I’m simply not there yet. And that’s okay. God isn’t in a rush, so we don’t need to be either. He is more focused on being with us rather than on where we are.

Truth #2: Mistakes are a sign of growth.

A child learning to walk falls down. Because they are in the process of learning. If there are no falls, that means you are still sitting on your bottom. (Note: New mistakes are better than making the same mistake over and over. But, even if you make the same mistake again and again, there is grace for you. And it is to God’s glory to give it to you. Grace takes away our shame but also empowers us to change. It’s never too late to change. Also, if you’re in a place of futility at the moment, you might enjoy this song.)

Truth #3: Failure matures like few experiences can.

You learn humility. Your capacity for compassion increases. Failure is basically the fast train to maturity. And then you get to learn perseverance when you get back up and try again. Or, you gain clarity and change directions. Or––the most potent lesson––you learn even more humility as you figure out how to make things right.

Truth #4: The biggest casualty of our failures is our pride.

There is a way back up when you fall down. Even if you happen to pull someone else down with you, there is a way to make it right. It will involve humbling yourself. It may be uncomfortable. But there is a way.

I tell myself that my fears of messing up are about missing opportunities, or potentially ruining something for other people, but in reality, I’m usually most concerned about myself. My standard. My reputation. My plans. The biggest casualty of our failures is usually our pride. Pride. It’s insidious. And whatever we can do to put it to death a little bit more is probably a good thing.


It’s good to strive for excellence, to have high standards for yourself, to pursue perfection. Excellence is valuable. It glorifies God. It’s enjoyable. It’s just plain good. (We can all appreciate the goodness of a delicious cookie, an intricately choreographed dance, or a moving speech, right? Usually those things aren’t accidents.)

But failure is good too. It’s not something to be feared but rather embraced. So, as God recently asked me, Are you ready to fail fantastically?

No, me neither.

But when you do fail, know you’re not alone and recognize the value of what brought you there (boldness) and the value of what you are learning (humility). And turn toward someone who will love you unconditionally and remind you that you are bigger than this one bump in the road. Who you are is much bigger than that.



Posted by

Elizabeth is a teacher, preacher, musician, and writer. She has a Master's of Divinity and a Master's of Music, which represent her two great loves: Jesus and the arts. A half-Korean, half-white American, she spent seven years in South Korea teaching English. Elizabeth is a perpetual learner, a deep feeler, and a pursuer of beauty and truth.

Add your thoughts

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.