The Right To Fail

Yesterday I received an email from a friend paralyzed by writer’s block. She’d recently finished her previous novel and couldn’t seem to move forward. Although, when I asked her to send me what she had, I realized her problem wasn’t lack of words but false expectations. All those rules she’d applied in draft fifth and sixth of her previous novel had sapped her creativity. And her confidence. She’d forgotten the drivel she’d started with and expected to produce a final draft the first time around.

Two years ago our daughter developed math phobia. She had a difficult, often hostile teacher, who was hard to please and being the people-pleaser that she is, this paralyzed her. Each problem was torturous. She was so afraid she’d get it wrong, so terrified of making a mistake, she couldn’t begin.

It took a bit of “worse-case-scenario” discussions to move her past this. Basically, I told her I didn’t care if she got it wrong, or even if she failed the class. All I wanted was for her to do her best. My straight-A student didn’t like to hear this, but once I brought it to a spiritual level, reminding her that her obedience to God was all that mattered, she was able to move forward.

We all have things that paralyze us. And we all have our comfort zones. So, we gravitate toward those things that come easily and are the most comfortable, and avoid those things that are difficult. But that leads to stagnation and God calls us to continual growth.

In Dr. Senske’s book, The Calling: Live a Life of Significance,* he encourages us to focus on our areas of weakness-to purposefully seek out new, challenging activities.

It reminds me of training I participated in in highschool. I was a distance runner. The longer the run, the better. Those short, fast turn-outs about killed me. Because speed wasn’t my thing. If left on my own, I would have avoided the drills and speed runs entirely, adding more and more miles to my day in an effort to hone my strength. But my coach knew better. He saw a weakness in me and zeroed in on that weakness.

What would happen if we were as intentional with our spiritual lives? What opportunities might come our way? What kind of growth would we experience?

So how might this transfer to real life?

I’ll give an example in mine. I’m a fiction gal. Fiction’s easy, and relatively non-offensive. Even though you sprinkle truth through out the pages, you never really make strong theological claims. This fall I was provided with two writing opportunities that moved me out of my comfort zone. Both present the gospel, and one requires an exegetical study of Scripture. Not something I’m very comfortable with! Needless to say, there’s been a bit of a learning curve, and to be honest, initially it would have been easier to avoid both assignments all together. But God calls us to growth, not stagnation.

This past year, my husband’s been working on our yard. In the beginning, this was a stretch for him. (Normally we hire people to do these sorts of things.) But after listening to me (again and again) remind him of the worst case scenario, (we could always hire someone after the fact to fix what he did.) he decided to try his hand. And for the most part, he’s done a wonderful job, gaining confidence along the way. Did it save us oodles of money? Not necessarily. There’s been a few costly mistakes along the way. But the way I see it? He’s funding his life-education, and to me, that’s invaluable.

How might this translate to your life? What are your areas of weakness? Make a list. Then brainstorm ways you could strengthen those areas. If you’re afraid to speak in public, purposefully seek out a few speaking engagements. Writing not your thing? Force yourself to write a few letters to loved ones. (Great way to share the gospel, by the way.)

My final admonition (to myself as well): bring it back to your audience of one. No matter what you’re doing, each day make it between you and God–no one else. Don’t worry about what your editor will say. Don’t worry about your boss. Don’t even think about the end result. Focus instead on your Savior and make each moment, each task, an act of praise.

1 Corinthians 10:31 “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

And if you don’t have a spiritual mentor, find one. Remember, if you’re not moving forward, in faith and life, chances are your slipping in the other direction.

*As I mentioned the previous time I referenced Dr. Senske’s book, there were parts of this book that appeared to be Lutheran specific, such as the emphasis on baptism and the use of rituals. Due to my limited knowledge, I am not certain if this is a semantics issue or a theological one, but I thought it worth mentioning.


A Matter of Forethought

Lately I’ve become increasingly aware of my capacity to sin. If you’re a writer, I’m sure to some extent you understand. There’s a fine line between being marketable and selling your soul–between ministering to others and living to please the world. For me, it’s often an instant gratification thing, and I’m never void of opportunities to choose the path of least resistance. The more “line in the sand” moments arise, the more alert I am of my sinful nature. As my mentor says, the older we grow, the more we realize we are just one decision away from falling into sin. One quick decision away.

As my daughter grows older, our conversations are becoming more and more intense. And intentional. I know she’s going to face numerous occasions to sin along her journey from childhood to adulthood. The stronger she thinks she is, the more apt she will be to fall. Sounds contradictory, doesn’t it? Perhaps ironic–if she thinks she’s strong, she’ll likely fall. Not sure if the context is right, but I’m reminded of 2 Corinthians 12:9: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

The Bible tells us God’s strength is made perfect when we are weak–when we are completely dependent on God, surrounded by His protective arms and clinging to Him and His promises. The allure of sin dwindles in the presence of the Almighty.

Before Jesus died, He told His disciples to watch and pray–to be alert.

Mark 14:38 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The Spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

Be alert, self-controlled, intentional. Abide. Pray. Recognize your capacity for evil and choose the good instead.

My greatest struggle is pride, but often I won’t even recognize this ugly monster until it’s upon me in full force–when it’s much harder to fight. So often my sin lies dormant, tucked deep within my heart, until trouble arises. It is then–when my fight for self breaks forth–that I see my true nature. Only then, I’m caught off guard, swept away in the moment.

In Psalm 139:23 David says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

This is a pro-active prayer. One that meets the trouble head on and places it where it belongs, in the hands of the Father.

Search me, O God. Examine the deep recesses of my heart, the places only you can see, and remove everything that gets in your way. Lead me in the way everlasting.


On the Flip Side…

So today I made a major blunder–not the first. Actually, not the second or third, either. And I’m sure my editor at Clash of the Titles is about ready to tear her hair out. (Yep, I’ve called her twice this week.) Now part of it’s a Mac problem–not today’s error, but the other errors I’ve made this week.

(My name is Jennifer Slattery and I’m a PC).

Although technology is getting better, there are still many programs and downloads that aren’t Mac compatible. And I’ve got a pc (three Macs, one PC), but somehow it lost my wireless internet key, and the internet guys don’t have it. (Seriously?) So, to use the internet on my Toshiba, I have to manually plug my Toshiba into the modem. Not a big deal, right? Except the modem is in the loft in the entertainment center about four feet off the ground and the cord is maybe four and a half feet, so there’s a bit of juggling involved. (Maybe it would have been better to keep our desktop…)

Enough complaining–you’re wanting to know what I did, right? Wow, tad bit morbid this morning, aren’t we? What’s that saying? Misery likes company? Just kidding.

So this week was my week to host COTT, and we’ve got a definite order of how things are supposed to go. Only I got so caught up in the stories and the comments from our readers, and the neck-and-neck polls (52%-48%. Now that’s close!) that I posted the winners. Not just on our site, but all through out cyberspace. Meaning, I can’t fix it. (Winners aren’t supposed to be announced until Friday. Surprise!)

I had to eat it. Tuck tail, send out emails to both competing authors, copy in my editor, asking for mercy. I offered a consolation prize–an interview on Reflections. But I blew it, and these authors deserved better.

I tend to do stuff like this often. For someone who gnaws things to death (my husband’s words, not mine) I sure live by the seat of my pants a lot. It can get downright discouraging, and rather embarrassing. I’m frequently sucking on my toes. (Open mouth, insert foot.) Which is why I like Peter so much–one of the sons of thunder. My husband says I’m like a bull in a china cabinet.

If he says it with a smile, does that mean it’s a good thing?

I guess that depends on which side of the table you’re on.

I’ve got a friend who can see the good in every situation. I love talking to her.

“You’re a pit-bull.”

“Okay…???” (I’ve got stinky breath? I suck the life right out of you? I need to be chained?)

“In a good way. When…” (And she relates a positive example.)

I lift my chin and square my shoulders. “Yeah, I see where you’re going.” Chest puffed out a bit more. “Right, pit bull. I like that.”

We’ve all got hints of Peter, or Thomas, or Martha’s in us.

Even as I say that, I’m imaging numerous images come to mind. Peter was impetuous, a trait that caused him to eat his words on at least one occasion, but he was also passionate. Impetuous/passionate…See where I’m going?

Martha was like a type A to the extreme. I bet she drove her people-oriented sister, Mary, crazy! And yet, she got things done. She took care of details. She never would have bombed the COTT deal today.

Thomas, doubting Thomas, full of questions. And yet, he got his questions answered, resulting in total, unwavering faith.

Every personality has its strength along with a dose of weakness. And according to my dear friend Katie Johnson, our greatest strength often doubles as our greatest weakness.

Not sure what to do about that. It’s not like I can suddenly decide to change my personality, replacing all those negative qualities with positives, although I console myself with the knowledge that God’s not through with me yet. And although I’m tempted to retreat into a nice, safe, non-impetuous-provoking world of laundry and vacuuming, I’m not going to let my weakness get in the way of obedience. Sure, I’ll have to tuck tail once in awhile, owning up to my mistakes and asking for an extra dose of grace–but I’ve already got all the grace I need in Jesus.

In the meantime, I’ll learn from my mistakes and do the best I can to compensate for them.

What about you? What tends to be your greatest weakness and how might it also be a strength? What steps can you take to overcome your weaknesses?

(And as a side-note. Thanks to Lena, Tiffany, and April, for their immeasurable patience!)

Walking the Wire

Our family used to rock-climb. Yeah, I know, this probably doesn’t fit the image you have of me. I’ll bet you’re remembering that post I wrote a while back about my fear of heights which translated into a fear of flying. But you should also remember that I refuse to let this fear hinder me.  (And my fear of manmade things, like planes, is much greater than my fear of God made things, like rocks.) Besides, life is too short. Christ died to set me free. Why would I allow myself to remain in self-imposed bondage?

As I read my Bible this morning, I was reminded of a weekend we spent at a rock climbing ranch in Arkansas. It was one of those places designated for climbers, with camp sites tucked amidst mountainous boulders and well-trodden trails leading to numerous rock walls. The whole event is quite comical looking back. It had been my idea to go. In fact, the whole rock-climbing deal had been my idea. Largely because I felt God nudging me to do it. He saw a weakness in me—fear—and He wanted to slice it out. But as we readied for our climb, beef jerky, water bottles and climbing gear shoved in our packs, I wanted to turn around and head home. Fast. But I didn’t. I offered up a few, “God, don’t leave me hanging,” (literally) prayers and followed my husband up the mountain. The whole way I’m doing my, replace the lies with truth, mantra. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” “There is no fear in love for perfect love casts out fear.” “Do not let yourself be burdened by the yoke of slavery.” “For I have not been given the spirit of fear.”

You get the idea.

But twenty minutes later as I stood strapped into my harnesses ready to scale this towering rock wall, all my recitations fell flat as my best intentions collided with “reality”. Did I really trust God to hold me up? Was my husband (who was my belayer) as strong as I thought he was? Would the rope hold if I happened to slip?

Needless to say, I was terrified. My stomach twisted in knots and my hands went slick with sweat. Not a good thing when you’re about to climb.

Until I re-routed my thoughts. My rope was stronger. And it was attached to my anchor—my husband. Ultimately, it was my trust in him that allowed me to take that first step, and then the next, and the next, until I reached the top.

A while later, it was my daughter’s turn. She started out strong enough, but as the climb grew more difficult, she began to have trouble reaching those good holds. My husband noticed this as well and leaned back, working the rope like a pulley, lifting her up inch by inch, until she too made it to the top.


When I read through the New Testament, I’m awed by the tremendous amount of divine power displayed in believers. And they faced a lot more than a steep climb. They faced death. But they didn’t cower. Why? Because they had witnessed the miraculous—Christ rising from the dead. And sometimes, when we read about their courage and single-minded focus, it can be easy to rationalize it away. They had an extra dose of the Holy Spirit, right? But our God never changes. The same power that worked through them lives inside of us.

I love those verses that talk about God’s insurmountable power and I often have Chris Tomlin’s Our God is Greater on instant replay. But then, once the song is done, I go back to my nice safe little life, taking on only enough tasks to keep my boat afloat, but certainly not enough to send it into the waves. Basically, I take on those things that can be accomplished in my strength, keeping God and His promises tucked in my pocket for that occasional pep-talk. Nothing more.

It’s like I’ve built this natural safety net into my day. I’ve got to schedule in time for the occasional writer’s block, right? As doors open, I quickly grab my binoculars so I can see as far down that hallway as possible. And then I’ll walk tentatively, like a timid child, eyes darting all around waiting for that first hint of danger, ready to dash back into my safe, little predictable world.

Perhaps its a fear of failure that keeps me bound. And yet, Christ died to set me free. He’s given me everything I need to live a victorious life–a glorious life, a fully surrendered life marked by the ever-working power of the Holy Spirit.

For children set free by the grace of God, we sure live in angst. Fretting, stressing, over-analyzing, clinging to the safe and familiar. We say we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, but we live as if it’s all up to us.

I love this video created by Francis Chan:

I’ve been cemented to my balance beam for way too long. It’s time I lifted my head, centered my gaze on Christ and the power that He has given to me.

What about you? Are you giving yourself an excuse not to believe in God?  Excuses like, “I can’t do that!” or “I’m too young.” Or, “I’m too old, too shy,” whatever. Excuses that translate as lack of faith.

Step out of that boat. Yeah, I know, there’s a good chance you’ll sink–if you rely on your own strength. But God never intended you to go it alone. He wants you in a place of weakness because that is when He is most glorified. He wants you in a place of dependence because that is when you will be the most pliable.

I love this passage in Ephesians 1:17-21: I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.”