Failure is a word we despise, but one we’re all too familiar with. Our indoctrination against it begins in early childhood the first time we hear the word “no” and disobey. Later, it cranks into high gear with school report cards. By the time we’re adults, many of us have set our personal standards so high that perceived failure can mean anything less than perfect.
Dust on the furniture, toddler toys strewn across the floor, and a sink full of dishes might dredge up the label in our minds. Sometimes it’s a messy desk at the end of the workday, or as a teacher, a child’s inability to grasp a new concept that spawns the idea we aren’t good enough—after all, we think, if we did a better job, if we were a better person, this wouldn’t happen.
Other, more serious events such as a child who rebels, being laid off from work, an unwanted divorce, or any number of life crises can leave us feeling at fault, as if we’ve somehow missed the mark.
And then there are all the things that really are our own fault. Angry words, or even the right words spoken at the wrong time, leave a painful emotional trail. Overspending the bank account for an impulse purchase, buying a bigger house or nicer car than we can afford, or just losing track of daily expenditures can land us in financial trouble and cause creditors to call on the phone. Exaggerating just a little rather than admitting the painful honest truth only ends in trouble.
Our lives can become like minefields as we try to dodge anything that might put a minus instead of a plus sign in the column marked Perfect. Because don’t we keep track? Add in the spiritual disciplines we don’t do as often as we think we’re supposed to, such as reading the Bible, praying, and tithing, and we can end up wondering, What’s the use?
This list of possible failures seems depressing. So, let’s counter it with some positive truth. We could even use the word “benefits” to describe a mind-shift about our failures and imperfections.
1. Imperfection reminds us of our need for Christ.
Jesus knew there wasn’t any hope for us. That’s why He died on the cross. From the day Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit until now, all people are infected with sin. You and I are no exception. No matter how good we want to be, at our very core we are not. Paul reminded us in Romans 3:23 that no one is ever good enough. We are all colossal failures. But the price Christ paid for us is sufficient. Paul knew how prone to legalism we are when he wrote the third chapter of Romans. Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection—the gospel—is enough to wipe away all our sins. We don’t need to add anything to it. Nothing is required except believing in and accepting His work on our behalf.
On days you don’t measure up to your own standards, much less God’s, remember that no amount of goodness is enough. But Jesus provided righteousness for you. He’s got you covered.
2. Imperfection keeps us from bragging.
When we acknowledge our shortcomings, we can’t brag about how wonderful we are. Pride is one of the seven deadly sins, but awareness of our lack of perfection wards it off. Pride is the opposite of feeling like an abject failure, so when those low times come, remember that they have a purpose. Nobody wants to be perceived as a braggart or somebody who thinks they’re “all that.”
Romans 3:28 says we are justified by faith and not works. There is literally nothing we can do to earn a passing grade to get from earth to heaven. No matter how good we think we are, no matter how kind, compassionate, generous, or unselfish, it’s not enough. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us the heart of every person is naturally wicked—even evil. It’s not pleasant to consider this truth about ourselves, but at the moment of a mess-up, we come face-to-face with it. And on those days when we think we’ve got it all together, we need only remember the times we blew it to prevent a pride attack.
3. Imperfection reveals the glory of God.
People who are imperfect stand in stark contrast to a perfect God. The very idea that God would send His Son into a human body to become a sacrifice for us—to die in our place—shows His glory in all its radiant beauty.
We don’t need to fail in order for God’s glory to be revealed, but when we do, it is. So we shouldn’t let this truth be an excuse. But it is something solid we can grip when we need to get out of the pits of self-condemnation.
4. Imperfection causes us to praise the Lord.
When I am reminded of the truth about myself—that I am inherently sinful and without hope—but that Jesus Christ redeemed me from that state, I can only praise His name. I am filled with gratitude that my future with God does not hinge on my deeds or attitudes.
At the time I am confronted with my imperfection in a particular area, listening to praise music or an audio book of the Psalms can soothe my wounded spirit. Reading in the Bible about the grace of our Lord towards us reminds me of how great and wonderful He is. Keeping these thoughts in the front of my mind helps push negative self-talk away.
5. Imperfection sets us free.
When we feel “less than” in some area, or when we know we’ve really messed up, it serves to remind us of the truth of the gospel. Fully understanding and embracing this grace-gift sets us free from the perfection-versus-failure hamster wheel life.
Just because imperfection has some benefits, we don’t need to give up trying. While doing our best won’t get us into heaven, it is what we strive for as Christians. We want to please God and be a good witness to others. The freedom comes when we want to do better instead of believing we’re doomed if we don’t.
So the next time you make a mess of things, instead of beating yourself up, remember to lift your eyes and look up to Jesus. Confess it to Him. Tell Him how you really feel—He knows anyway. Ask Him what you need to do to make amends if the problem involves another person. And then praise Jesus for His blood shed on the cross to cover your sins.
You and I are not perfect, but rather than letting it get us down, let’s turn to Christ and allow Him to lift us up.
Kathryn Graves, author of the book Fashioned by God, is a style expert, fashion coach, and Premier Designs jewelry consultant. She is also a pastor’s wife and Bible teacher. Kathryn helps women discover the source of real beauty in Jesus, freeing them to gain confidence in their personal styles. She is Mimi to three grandsons, and loves to play with color, both in fashion and interior design, and painting with pastels.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/filipefrazao