Why you can stop fearing failure

I can hardly wait!

That in itself is a small miracle.

The teacher in my mandatory high school art class once told me that my perspective was “screwy as hell.”

If I wasn’t afraid to pick up a paintbrush before that, I certainly have been since. Afraid of failure. Afraid of what people will think.

So what has changed?

I am sharing a home with someone who is an artist. This is her idea. And she has done it before with people who, in their words, ‘can’t paint.’

She tells me I can’t ruin the picture.

Sometimes, for people afraid to begin, she’ll take a brush and scribble across the canvas to emphasize: they cannot spoil the painting. She will go before, showing me how to hold the brush and where to start and how to mix the paint. She will come behind, and however my brush strokes the canvas, the brush of the master artist will incorporate and cover and surround, and the first strokes of a not-so-timid-anymore but still-mostly-untrained artist will become a seamless part of the beauty.

I can let go and enter the process with joy, knowing that my strokes are few in the bigger picture. Trusting the promise and the promiser:  I cannot ruin the picture.

My favorite part of all this? I don’t have the last word in life either. The Master Artist, brush in hand, not only coaches but comes behind, filling and surrounding and incorporating dark and light into unbelievable beauty. And He promises that every stroke I make on my canvas, the careful ones, the let-go-and-have-fun ones, the ones where I really mess up badly – as well as every loving touch or careless scribble or angry slash that someone else makes across my canvas, will all be used in the shaping of the final image – Christ in me.

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.  For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son. . .  (Romans 8:28-29 NLT)

Oh, and my other favorite part? I get to be a real-life artist! So do you! We’re made in the image of the Creator, created to create alongside Him, to dream with Him, to learn from Him that there are no ordinary scenes or relationships when they’re touched with His light – and ours (John 8:12; Matt 5:14). So enjoy painting your own God-inspired beauty into your day, my fellow artists!


When you don’t have it together


(Laugh with me that I’ve been trying to publish this post about not having it together for 48 hours and still can’t get the font size or paragraph spacing to cooperate! I’ve decided to publish it anyway, and hope the font and spacing issues doesn’t make it too difficult for you to read. Thanks for your patience!. . . )


He speaks into my frustration. Two weeks ago my heart sang free, “Here I am/all of me/ take my life/it’s all for Thee.” That day I discovered again the rest that lies in surrender.

Today I’m not there. I’m struggling even to see what binds my heart tight with anxiety. I’m learning this about myself: anxiety is but a symptom of clinging hands. Sometimes I can see what they’re grasping – a desire for control, security, what others think of me – sometimes I can’t. Worse, this week, when I do catch glimpses of what I’m clinging to, I can’t seem to let go.
I tell God all this. Tell him my frustration. Ask him to show me what I’m clinging to. To set me free.
It’s then that He says it.
“Give me the anxiety too.”
And I realize that this week I’m leaving out bits of me when I sing “Here I am/all of me. . .” Oh, sure, I’m giving him all the bits listed in the song – my hands and feet, my voice and lips, my heart and my days. But I’m leaving out the bits of me that I don’t like. The bits that aren’t pretty. The fears and tears and pain.
“Take my will and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine.” Somehow I’ve missed the fact that when I give him my will, I give it for him to make it his. Not because I’ve already made it that way.


I’ve been feeling like I have to figure out what’s behind the fear, invite him into the corner where I’m cowering, hand him my desire for control or change. That’s great when I can surrender it. But when I can’t? He backs it up a step. “Just give me your fear of looking foolish.” And when I can’t even identify that much? “Just give me the anxiety that you can’t figure out. I want it all – all of you – not just the parts you think are acceptable. If you let me in, I can help you with it.”
I’ve known this for years. How do I keep missing it? I don’t have to fix myself before I come to Jesus. Maybe I thought that only applied before I came to him the first time. That now I should have it all together. Breaking news: I don’t. More news: He knows that. And He’s okay with it. He wants all of me. Not just my service. Not just my worship. Not even just the “little” defects that I can tolerate seeing in myself: the overgrown garden and flawed stained glass. He wants to be in the places I can’t fix. The ones I fear and avoid and resent: the nook around the corner where the bits that I cut off sleep alone.



For this is the place that he comes the closest.


“The Christ we find in ourselves is not identified with what we vainly seek to admire and idolize in ourselves – on the contrary, he has identified himself with what we resent in ourselves, for he has taken upon himself our wretchedness and our misery, our poverty and our sins. . . . We will never find peace if we listen to the voice of our own fatuous self-deception that tells us the conflict has ceased to exist. We will find peace when we can listen to the ‘death dance’ in our blood, not only with equanimity but with exultation because we hear within it the echoes of the victory of the Risen Savior.” (Thomas Merton, Monastic Journey, p. 102)


Related posts:

When you’re afraid of the daily dyings

When you feel used up

The picture stands, testimony to what was. The ugly scar of a worked-out limestone quarry, gouged deep and empty and useless.

The picture stands, testimony to what was, for without it, no one would believe.


* * * * *

I round the corner above the Sunken Garden and catch my breath, stunned into silence by magnificence. I gaze long, savor each new angle, descend into the pit and explore each corner of this glorious display of color.


There is no hint of ugliness now. The deepest places have been filled with water, the mirror redoubling surrounding beauty. Bare walls have been planted with ivy, and the gentle roar of water pouring over the pit’s edge quiets those who pass by.


The curving beauty of grace marks all, transforming the deep pit of brokenness so thoroughly that, though I look long, I cannot see the single remaining stack of the old cement plant which greedily chewed this wound in the earth. Only when I return once more at the end of my visit does the light reveal this one remaining testament to what was.

If I had planned the garden of my life, everything would be laid out in straight rows, controlled and organized and predictable. No deep gashes or emptied places.

But as I walk through the Italian Garden, prim and proper in its predictable rows, I realize something. I much prefer the free-flowing beauty of grace. Tightly controlled predictability, which used to seem so desirable, now awakens within me nothing more than boredom (when, occasionally, everything seems under my control), and stress (when my clenched hands grasp for perfect order in an unpredictable world). Grace surprises me again and again with awe and joy and a deep desire to pour myself out at the feet of the One whose love holds me secure, the One who fills all of my used up and empty places with His own glorious beauty. 


At the start of the week. . .

The stone has been rolled and the stone table shattered, for the deep magic demanding the blood of traitors has been sated. Our hearts of stone, too, shattered, replaced with the soft flesh of true humanity.

“When you were stuck in your old sin-dead life, you were incapable of responding to God. God brought you alive—right along with Christ! Think of it! All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant canceled and nailed to Christ’s Cross.  He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets.” (Colossians 2:13-15 The Message)


“It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some very imperfect people. By that single offering, he did everything that needed to be done for everyone who takes part in the purifying process. . . .


So, friends, we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” . . .


So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out.  Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going.  He always keeps his word.” (Hebrews 10:12-22 The Message)

At the start of the week. . .

. . . I share with you a hymn I’ve just discovered; three verses of the best news in the world. (If it’s new to you too, you can hear the tune here.)


A debtor to mercy alone,

Of covenant mercy I sing;

Nor fear, with thy righteousness on,

My person and offering to bring;

The terrors of Law and of God

With me can have nothing to do;

My Savior’s obedience and blood

Hide all my transgressions from view.


The work, which his goodness began,

The arm of his strength will complete;

His promise is Yea and Amen,

And never was forfeited yet;

Things future, nor things that are now,

Not all things below nor above,

Can make him his purpose forego,

Or sever my soul from his love.


My name from the palms of his hands

Eternity will not erase;

Impressed on his heart it remains

In marks of indelible grace;

Yes, I to the end shall endure,

As sure as the earnest is given;

More happy, but not more secure,

The glorified spirits in heaven.

(A. Toplady, 1740-1778)


May you go into this week knowing that, because of grace, you need not be afraid to bring yourself (whatever your condition) or your offering (even if it resembles the little boy’s lunch – a few crumbly rolls out of his pocket and a couple of small fish that had been in the hot sun all day). The One who receives our offering of ourselves blesses it by joining us to himself, breaks us still further even as he himself is broken for us, and uses our offering to nourish many. Go in the confidence that nothing can keep Him from accomplishing His purpose!