This is the fourth installment of a series I am doing during Lent, chronicling our experience of eating what we have. If you’re just joining us here, I have included the links for the first three entries as well.
- A Long, Cold Winter, Lent and Spring
- Lent – Eating What We Have
- Lent – Week 2 of Eating What We Have
Several days ago there was a lively dialogue ensuing among our three children when the middle one said decisively, “At least failure is always an option.” I stopped in my tracks and just froze for a second or two, and I thought Wow, good for her! I’m so grateful she’s okay with failure. It took me years and years to come to the place where the very idea of being okay with failure was even on my radar. Failure was not an option, because failure meant I didn’t have it all together. Failure said that somehow I had failed to be enough (yes, there it is again). Failure said, see you shouldn’t even have tried and now you look like a fool. Fear of failure made me an expert at reading a situation, weighing the risks and the chances for success. I wanted guarantees. I wanted certainty.
As I look at what is going on inside of me as we continue on this Lenten journey of “eating what we have”, I find myself being reflective and trying to untangle some of what I feel and know to be true in my life. As I alluded to in an earlier post, there was a time in my life when I don’t think I would have been strong enough to even attempt what we’re doing. Just that in itself encourages me and gives me hope, because I can look back and see where I’ve been and how far I’ve come. It may not be far, but it is something.
I think one of the biggest hindrances in my life has been this overwhelming fear of failure. There are so many things I did not even attempt because the risks looked too big, the fallout of possibly failing was too costly and the shame I knew I would feel was too much. So why was I so afraid of failing? Why am I still fighting this battle of fear of failure? Brené Brown in her book Daring Greatly says, “Shame breeds fear.” I have found this to be true in my life – my perceived shame of failure has driven my debilitating fear of failure. Somehow I never knew that failure was not a reflection on me as a person. Now I know that it does not make me less of a person, and indeed it has nothing to do with my identity in the sense that it makes me a bad person, it just means that I had the courage to try and can that be enough? I wonder if the trying – and sometimes failing – is not the most important thing?
Looking back over my life, I see too often where I would actively sabotage my own chances at success. I was terrified, and still am sometimes, of even thinking about being successful at something. I think this fear is almost as big as the fear of failure. At first glance, it might seems like these two fears are diametrically opposed to each other, when I actually think they are two sides of the same coin. At any rate, there have been many times when I would actually start something and when I saw that it was not going to turn out well or the whole thing looked too overwhelming, it would simply not finish. Or I would – whether consciously or unconsciously, I’m not sure – sabotage the whole thing and I would in some way make it go up in flames before someone else could tell me that it had bombed. Obviously, I was scared to death both of failure and success and I now believe shame was somehow connected to both of them.
I have also found that when shame drives the way I live, I tend to project that onto those around me, calling them to a life of performance to keep the shame at bay, rather than calling them to a life of engagement and connection where the whole and true self is brought to the table, where triumphs and sorrows are shared and we celebrate who God has made us to be with all our strengths and all of our weaknesses. Is this not where true community happens, a place where we desperately need each other, one person’s strengths picking up another’s weakness? It’s a place where we may safely admit that we have weaknesses and failures and where we may say “I need you”, because alone we truly don’t have everything we need. I believe we all have deficiencies that can only be filled by God and by other people. I am not advocating that we look to people for what we should be seeking from God, although we have been created to live in community with other people and it is there that we also need to admit some of our need so that we can truly participate in authentic community.
I have found that many times it is easier to do things myself than to let someone else (children, husband, friend) try to do what I want done, because it’s easier and faster to do it myself than to fix what they attempt. When I do this, am I not shaming others into the fear of failure? What if I was okay with an attempt even if it didn’t turn out the greatest? I wonder if we don’t rob our loved ones of great learning experiences and a chance to let them know that when things don’t go the way we would have wanted they still belong, they are still loved, they are still worthy and that we celebrate their turn in the arena of life, even if it wasn’t what one might call successful. And that brings up more questions – what is success and how do we measure it? But I will leave that for another day.
How does this all tie in with eating what we have? Well, let’s just say this would not have happened if I would not be at a place where I’m okay if, as my children would say, the whole thing is an epic fail. Maybe we won’t make it all the way through, but does that mean we can’t have learned something from it? Does that make it pointless? No, because if the whole thing blew up in my face today, I would have learned valuable lessons I would not have learned sitting on the sidelines. I would have the satisfaction of having entered the battle, of doing the hard work of fighting through tough issues and of becoming vulnerable and letting others see my weaknesses. And while I don’t have guarantees or certainty, I don’t want that to keep me from engaging in my real life fraught with risk and uncertainty.
Oh, and we’ve been eating well. Lots of meatloaf and corn and green beans and other beans. We were on vacation last week, so we had a break from the whole thing. I felt a little guilty about it, but not for long. The children are counting the days until Easter and they’re hoping to replace some of their favorites in the snack drawer.