I Am A Failure At Life

I am a failure at life.

I never taught my kids to ride a bike. One child figured it out on their own. But then the tires went flat and needed to be replaced and I never made it to Walmart to buy the new inner tubes. Well, I made it Walmart. I just never bought the replacements. There are currently two bikes in our shed. Both in need of repair. Two children don’t even know how to ride them.

And it isn’t just the bikes. There are so many ways I have failed my children. So many opportunities they have not had. So many times I procrastinated something away. So many missed chances to have a family fun night.

It has even been so bad that my daughter felt a B was a failing grade. I never told her this. In fact, I was encouraging of the hard work she put in. But she watched me while I went through grad school. She has heard me criticize my work and efforts over and over. Based on her observation of me, she has learned that anything short of perfection is failure.

I have failed my wife again and again and again. The lying, betrayal, deception, silence, and who knows what else have popped up more times than I care to admit. She has forgiven me many times. I do not know where she gets the strength. I often think how much better she deserves.

There are times I lie awake at night feeling miserable. I start thinking about the things I have not done; all the opportunities missed; all the time wasted.

And I cannot shut up the thoughts that continue swirling.

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That’s why I drank.

I couldn’t deal with failure. If I wasn’t perfect at everything, it was not good enough. I beat myself up constantly with statements like, “How could you do so poorly?” “Why can’t you get this?” “What is wrong with you?”

I couldn’t deal with conflict. If someone disagreed with me, I would shrink into my shell trying to figure out what it was I was doing wrong to make someone not love me.

As a preacher, people leaving the church HAD to be my fault. If I would just preach better, teach better, visit more, answer more questions, solve more problems, then people would definitely stay and bring more people with them.

At least in addiction, I could pass out. Now, when I feel this way, I am just miserable.

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It is not only addicts who feel this way.

This coming weekend, my Dad will attend a church of about 20 members. My brothers will attend churches of a couple hundred. One of my friends will attend a house church with 10. I will attend church of 2000.

All of us have this in common: there will be people present who feel as if they are failures.

And they will probably be hiding it. Hiding it behind their Sunday best, their piety, their photo-ready family who is all smiling so pretty. They will be hiding it by talking about anything and everything other than their discouragement.

Or they may not be hiding it all. They may arrive with disheveled clothing and eyes puffy from crying. They may be wearing their emotions on their sleeves.

(Unfortunately, we may run away from them and try to make conversation with the people who can hide it better.)

And then we can all leave and go back to our daily routines of hiding behind our addictions—whether those addictions are drugs, alcohol, work, pornography, shopping, food…

Hiding from our struggles is so much easier than facing them. (Even when the hiding just creates more struggles.)

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Here’s the deal: I am not a failure. You are not a failure. Some days, I think I am. Some nights, I lie awake at night because I am telling myself I am not good enough. But that’s not the truth. I have made mistakes, I have said bad things, I have not come through in areas where I really wish I had.

But I am not a failure.

Actually, maybe I am. (Have I totally confused you yet?)

I am a failure at living an unrealistic life I created for myself with expectations that are too lofty for anyone to accomplish. I have failed at that life. Because it is an impossible life. I have failed to be the perfect husband, father, person because all of that was based on me doing all the things I told myself I needed to do to make myself complete.

So I am a failure at (that) life.

And I am grateful for that.

Now I can focus on taking life one day at a time, on being honest, on doing the best I can each day, on admitting my mistakes and learning from them, on facing my fears and not running from them.

If you think of yourself as a failure, I would like to ask what standard you are using to measure. Because my hunch is you’re not doing as bad as you are telling yourself.

Let us learn to give ourselves a break. Let us learn how to live in today.

Breaking Out Of Isolation

Why do we isolate?

In times of grief, sometimes our first thought is to crawl into a figurative hole and cry by ourselves. We do this by binge watching TV while eating a gallon of ice cream. We do this by going to the bar and drinking until our card is maxed out. We do this by driving for miles and miles and hours and hours until we cannot afford the gas anymore. We refuse to answer the phone. We pretend we don’t hear the doorbell ring. The thought of church or parties or social events makes us sick to our stomach.

And the causes of our grief are numerous:

  • Death of a family member or friend
  • Loss of a job
  • Being a victim of abuse
  • A partner leaving
  • Being betrayed by a someone who was trusted
  • Struggling with depression, addiction, or other mental illnesses
  • Health scares
  • Moving to a new home

You can probably add more to that list. It is a fascinating truth of the human experience that although we are social creatures our first reaction in times of grief or extreme stress we often isolate.

Three things have happened this week in my immediate and extended family that were all stressful as well as being reasons to mourn. There was a time when I use to drown my feelings; hoping to forget and numb. Today, however, I fully experience all the emotion that comes with the various challenges life throws my way. And along the way, I have realized that I have learned some important behaviors; some actions I can take to keep from isolating.

First, I ask for prayers from other people. There are people in my life whom I trust. I know they are people of prayer. I go to them and ask them to pray for me. Because sometimes, I don’t have the words to speak. You may or may not be a person of prayer or faith. Let me recommend that you still find those who are and ask them to pray for you. Beyond the spiritual component of prayer, knowing that there are trustworthy, loving people caring for you can be a vital step in overcoming isolation.

Second, I talk to my partner. There was a time in my life when my wife did not hear what was going on in my life. Because I wouldn’t tell her. Now I do. You may or may not be in a committed relationship. If you are, part of that commitment needs to be sharing extreme joys and extreme pains. Intimacy demands openness. If you are not, I ask you to consider who your closest friends or family members are. Find that one person you can tell anything to and, well—tell them anything! And everything! We must speak out to others to avoid the temptation to go off and be by ourselves.

Third, I continue with my scheduled activities. This may not seem like a big deal, but it really can be. Being sad does not mean I should cancel my social activities. Being nervous is not a good excuse for missing work. Avoiding my friends’ or children’s activities will not make me better. I do understand that sometimes, our physical condition calls for rest and relaxation. Often, however, we are better off continuing with our schedules. If we don’t, we isolate. We hide. And we just make ourselves worse.

Are these suggestions a cure-all? No.

Are these suggestions the key to health, wealth, and success in all you do? No.

Will they cure your depression? No.

So why offer them? Because they are steps you can take to avoid isolating. When you are in the midst of grief, despair, or stress one of the worst things to do is isolate. Isolating potentially separates you from people who care about you. Isolating allows you to over-analyze with no other voices speaking into your life. It allows you to stay unchecked in your misery.

To break the burden of isolation, you need to find those few people who can keep you from being totally alone. Break the cycle of negative self-speak. Break the cycle of turning inward.

Find people to pray, share with your closest friend or partner, and do what you are scheduled to do.

And if you don’t who to begin with, email me: pdm95k@acu.edu

That will keep me from isolating, as well.

Rest For My Overactive Mind

“Find rest in God alone.”

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I am struggling. I want to be accepted. I want people to like me and support me. I want there to be no conflict. So when I know something is going on that will potentially upset others, I try to figure out what my response will be to their (imagined) reactions.

Because I just can’t live my own life. I have to live my life in such a way that everyone, everywhere, will love me all the time. That’s realistic, right?

I know something you don’t know. And if you knew it, you might be mad at me. You might think you need to fix me. You might look down your nose at me. So let me just keep it to myself.

Do you have any idea how fast my mind can operate? Do you know how many things I can think at one time? My mind is a scary place to be. I am thinking about my problem. I am thinking about everyone’s potential response to my problem. And I am thinking about my response to those potential responses.

Totally normal, right?

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I sat on my pastor’s couch and said I am overwhelmed. I cannot even state in words all the thoughts that are swirling in my head. He asks me to consider the trajectory of my life over the next 10 years.

My initial thought is, “Are you kidding? I’m freaking out about the next 10 minutes!”

But my second thought is, “Wow. That just might work.”

Maybe I don’t need to know what everyone thinks or feels about my life. Maybe I don’t need to prepare for others’ reactions.

Maybe I just need to know what God wants me to do with my life.

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I seek for rest from my people-pleasing thoughts: Agree with me; Understand me; Accept me.

Why am I seeking something eternal among the temporary?

If I am going to stop focusing on what is in front of me (real and imagined) and start focusing on God’s trajectory, how will I do that?

“Find rest in God alone.”

First, I will find a word. My word is peace. I silently pray, “Peace.” Over and over. Repetitively. Slowly breathing. Calming. Peace.

Second, I listen for God. I listen through memory. What has God done in my life already? What have I read, experienced, felt, worshipped before?

I listen through perception. How is God present in my life right now? What is God doing? How is God acting, moving, this very day?

I listen through silence. Sometimes, I listen and hear nothing. And that is okay. Just like at night when I look in on one of my children or my wife. I watch them sleep. I hear nothing. But it is one of the greatest sounds ever.

Third, I reflect on the written word. I read the Bible. I read my favorite authors. I read (or listen) to sermons I have heard before.

I find rest in God. God will direct my life, not other people. And definitely not myself.

My mind is running.

But God is calling me to rest.

“Find rest in God alone.”