Dena Johnson Martin Christian Blog and Commentary

When You Feel Like a Failure

I have never felt more like a failure as a mom than I do right now.

In reality, I’ve always felt pretty confident, pretty pleased with my kids. I know there are areas where I have not done as well as I wish (can we talk about table manners?), but my kids are downright amazing. Honestly, I attribute it all to my Father, their perfect heavenly Father, who has stepped in and filled all the gaps where I simply was not enough.

But things are different right now.

As you probably know, my baby girl was diagnosed with epilepsy last year. We’ve run tests and tried medications. We’ve switched medications and run more tests. Still, we find her, body convulsing, uncontrolled.

And it hurts.

It’s scary to her, and it breaks my heart because I am unable to do anything to help, unable to protect her from the seizures that attack her brain and her body.

If it were just the seizures, I think I could handle it. But as we’ve walked this journey over the last year, I’ve begun to grasp the bigger picture, to see the full impact of her illness on her life.

“Mom, can seizures affect my ability to concentrate?” she asks.

“Can seizures affect my short-term memory?” she queries.

“I used to love math, but now I’m a lost puppy in tall grass,” she says. At least she hasn’t lost her sense of humor.

As a Registered Nurse who worked the neurology floor, I am mad at myself for not seeing the changes in my daughter. Even worse, she now tells me she’s been fighting partial seizures since the third grade. And I totally missed it.

How could I miss the suffering my daughter was experiencing? How could I fail to recognize the drop in her grades and the direct correlation with her seizures? How could I think things were fine when she was changing and suffering right in front of my eyes?

And now that I am grasping the full impact, I have mounted an all-out war to protect her, to help her regain some semblance of normalcy.

But it’s an uphill fight.

As I’ve approached the school and begun to talk about her symptoms, to point out the drop in her grades, most seem to brush it off as a “normal” drop. As I fight for classes that are best for her, I’m told we should have done this last year. As I fight to protect her and her rights, I’m seen as a parent just trying to get my child out of circumstances that we find less than desirable.

I shouldn’t be surprised. If it’s taken me this long to see the big picture, I shouldn’t expect others to see what I’ve missed for so long.

But my heart is breaking for my daughter, for how she must feel as she struggles in areas that used to come so easily to her.

And I beat up on myself for missing it, for allowing her to suffer in silence for so long.

In reality, I know I’m not a failure. I know how hard I work with my kids. I know I’m not in her brain, can’t experience what she’s experiencing. It’s only through her words, her explanations of what she’s feeling that I can even begin to grasp a fraction of what her life has become.

But I still feel like I have failed my daughter.

Many of us are there or have been there. We feel like we have failed our children…our spouses…our bosses. We could go on. Even when we know it’s not true, we fight it. We fight our feelings of failure. We fight our self-hatred. We beat ourselves up over our shortcomings. So how do we overcome? How do we allow God to touch our hearts and pour out His grace? How do we forgive ourselves for our failures, our shortcomings, our humanity? Can God use our failures to create something more?

As I was contemplating this question, I began to think about the characters of the Bible. There were so many failures! David was an adulterer and a murderer. Gideon was a coward. Solomon was led astray by women. Abraham was a liar. Moses was a murderer.

Then there’s Peter. A quick search of his name is almost mind-boggling. There was the time he walked on water…only to take his eyes off Jesus and sink (Matthew 14). He makes a bold proclamation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus tells him he will be the rock upon which the church is built…and then he proceeds to chastise Jesus (Matthew 16). Peter has the privilege of accompanying Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane, to Jesus’ most gut-wrenching moment…only to be caught sound asleep (Matthew 26). And then there’s his bold proclamation that even if everyone deserts him, Peter promises to accompany him to the end…only to deny knowing him three times (Matthew 26).

Despite his failures, Peter is remembered as a bold, courageous follower of Christ. He preached Christ with power and conviction. He was first at the tomb when he learned of Christ’s resurrection. He was preaching on the day of Pentecost when 3000 were added to the church (Acts 2). He healed the sick and made the lame to walk (Acts 3). He was known as a pillar of the church (Galatians 2).

So many failures, and yet God propelled him forward to a place of honor. God used his failures to mold him into the man that could be used by God.

I want to believe my failures as a mom can somehow be used for my good…and for the good of my children. I want to believe that my children can overcome the areas in which I have failed. I want to believe we can be like Peter, failing repeatedly and yet rising to become a pillar for God.

How do we get there? What happened to Peter between his denying Christ and becoming the Rock upon which His church is built?

He experienced the risen Christ.

There, at the tomb, he expected to find a body, dead and gone. Instead, he found the risen Christ, the Son of the living God, alive and well. It was the power. It was the culmination of all of his teachings. It was the touch of the Savior that changed him forever, that allowed him to overcome his failures and use them to become all God created him to be.

What about us? How do we experience the risen Christ? How do we experience the touch of the Savior? We can’t physically touch the nail-scarred hands or the wound in His side. We can’t see with our own eyes the empty tomb with the grave clothes cast aside. We can’t hear His voice explaining scripture to us.

But we can experience the comfort of the Holy Spirit who washes over us with peace. We can bask in His love as we commune with Him in prayer. We can hear His voice as we open the scripture and let His words speak to our hearts. We can accept His word as truth, knowing He sees our hurt, our pain, and longs to speak truth about who we are. We can see ourselves through His eyes, eyes of love and compassion that see us through the blood of Christ washing us pure. He sees us as the bold and courageous Peter, not the coward who denies knowing him.

Today, as I struggle to come to grips with my failures as a parent, I ask God to wash over me with His grace and His love. I ask Him to fill the gaps in the lives of my children, the gaps where I am so much less than I want to be. I ask Him to fill me with His perfect peace as I focus my heart and mind on Him. I ask Him to give me wisdom and direction in raising my children, in showing me the areas where they are struggling before they even speak. I ask Him to parent my children through me.