looking through me

Tag: anxiety


My eyes skimmed the post until they caught these words: “Failure…implies an end. An end to trying. An end to worth.”[1]

I stopped.

My fear of failure is paralyzing. It threatens to sink me on my best days, and on my worst . . . on my worst it takes me places I should never go.

I re-read the words.

“Failure…implies an end. An end to trying. An end to worth.”

They took me back six years. I sat in a counselor’s office and choked out how I had failed and was failing. Then he handed me a piece of paper and a pen. His directions were simple: write down every single time I’d failed. Every academic failure. Every athletic failure. Every relational failure. Every professional failure. Every personal failure. Every one.

I fidgeted as I stared at the paper. In my head, there were only two categories: perfect and failure. I slapped the label of failure on anything I touched that didn’t end in unqualified success. I careened between success and utter failure with no room for landing in the wide middle of acceptable.

But there wasn’t much to write on the paper. I hadn’t stopped trying. I hadn’t lost my worth. I hadn’t failed.

I hadn’t failed.

It was a stunning realization.

Months later on a spring day I gave notice that I would not be returning to my job as an elementary school teacher, and as I submitted my paperwork I pictured a different paper: the list of my failures. And I knew this moment—this ending—was not a failure. It was an end to a season, yes. But my skewed perception of success and failure did not win. My worth was in tact. I signed my name to the form and felt freedom, not failure.

It’s been six years. My fear of failure shadows me every minute. But it’s easier to call it out as a fear—a possibility—not an inherent reality. And now when it crowds against my shoulder or slips its icy fingers around my heart I can counter it with these words—”Failure…implies an end. An end to trying. An end to worth.”—and I have a hunch I’ll find I’ve not reached the end.

The words aren’t magical. The piece of printer paper handed to me in a moment of crisis was just processed wood pulp. But together they put language and imagery to my internal struggle. They offer a filter through which to screen my labeling of life—or maybe they let me peel the hastily applied labels of failure off the imperfect moments.

The conversations that played out so differently in reality than in my head? Not failures.

The jobs I didn’t get? Not failures.

The degrees earned not directly applicable to my current position? Not failures.

The slow, slow process of figuring out what I have to offer, what my contribution to the world is?

Still in process, still trying. My worth is intact. I am not a failure.



[1] Mulder, S. (2014). The Success of Failure [Blog] That’s Me- Susan Mulder. Available at http://susanmulder.com/the-success-of-failure/ [Accessed 3 Nov. 2014].

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present tense God

I wrote this one year ago today, but the words remain true as I wend my way through new griefs and new mercies . . .


I went to a funeral today. It was a hard one. Fifty-four year old single fathers aren’t supposed to die. Staring at the back of the heads of three fatherless daughters makes no sense.

How do I reconcile the relief that his 12-year battle with cancer and devastating complications is finally over with the void in the lives of his daughters? I struggle to hold the inequity. Eternal joy and immediate, indefinite grief feel out of balance any way I position them.

But as I sat and listened to the reminder from Lamentations—today there are mercies for today’s burdens, and tomorrow will have new mercies for tomorrow’s burdens, but today’s mercies aren’t for tomorrow’s burdens—I remembered God is a present tense God.

Only the present moment can be lived. The mercies for today are for now, not yesterday or tomorrow. And I AM is present now.

Yes, I Am Who I Am was . . . and is . . . and will be to come, but only because He Is right now. He is ever present and ever present tense.

So often my mind races ahead of me and trips on the “what ifs” and “what thens” of the future. But God is here. He is now. He will be there when they arrive—if they arrive—but at this moment His presence is in the present.

When I get lost in the imagined future I remind myself: to what end? Tomorrow will bring its own trouble regardless of my anxiety today. My worry now does nothing but take my eyes off Jesus as He sits with us in our grief and meets our mourning with comfort.

So I hug an oldest daughter and listen to the fear at 25 of feeling responsible for her sisters though she’ll be leaving them here and returning to her home 1400 miles away. And as I hug her I pray she’ll find her way back to the safety of the One who is present with her dad and wants to be present with her, too.

Because only a present tense God is big enough to carry us through today.


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