I am not supermom. I yell at my children when they get on my nerves, I forget to send snacks with them to school. I let them eat cereal for dinner when I don’t feel like cooking. You know what else? I’m far from a size zero, that is, unless you add another number in front of the zero. I snap at and nag my husband. I leave tasks undone at work. I forget to call my mother and my best friend on a regular basis. But I will not accept the moniker “failure” for those things. I am not a failure- even when I do in fact, fail. This world is so success driven that it makes the “normal” folks like you and me feel like we don’t measure up. Even our own hearts try to pin the label on us; our own minds are not safe from criticism. Sometimes all we need is a safe place to go, to feel again, that we are not a failure.
All too often we let life’s failures control us. It starts in childhood, and in my experience, people have two general responses to failure: 1. Give in and accept that you are “a failure”, or 2. Work harder to prove (if not only to yourself) that you are NOT a failure. The problem with these human reactions is that both of them can be dangerous to us in the long run. An example of the first response is a young girl who tries out for the cheerleading squad; she is nervous, and does not do well. Instead of trying again, she listens to the harsh criticisms of the other girls, and the critiques that were given by the judges, and she decides that cheerleading is just not for her. She could have succeeded, in fact, she could have been one of the best, but she has chosen to accept this scenario as proof of her “failure” in that part of life. An example of the second reaction would be that of a child who is told by a teacher that he is not smart, or cannot understand a certain concept. This child takes that second stance, and will not accept himself as a failure; instead, he studies hard, punishing his flesh at the cost of knowledge. His entire life is spent striving to prove himself better than others, so that he can have the final laugh at the expense of the person that told him he could not do it.
You can argue the point from both sides however, perhaps the girl really was not coordinated enough to be a cheerleader, and perhaps the boy will grow to become a world famous inventor because of that extra push. This may be so, but their reactions reek of sinful roots. The girl is giving over to lack of self-confidence, which becomes defeat, which completely counters God’s word that says that the only being that lives in defeat in this world is Satan, not people, because we have victory through Christ (1 Cor. 15:57). The boy’s reaction may seem to the naked eye as though it could be beneficial to him and his future, and therefore be justified or perceived as correct, but that is also not the case. His behavior is a root that causes pride, even intellectualism. God wants our hearts to be focused on Him, not on our failures, not on our own selfish ways and fleshy distractions. The truth is that pride, even in small doses is deceitful, (Ob 1:3) and what is deceit but a trap set out by Satan in order to trip you up and cause you to fall (Pro. 16:18)?
I once was living a life of blatant sin. Rather than facing the choices I was making daily and weighing them against God’s word, I chose to push aside my morals and values and push aside God’s presence in my life. In doing this, I was trying to make it easier for me to live how I wanted, but without the guilt. Does this sound familiar? It probably does, because it is a popular method of denial. When we try to justify our life choices by simply avoiding facing our guilt, we are living in that denial. Unfortunately, as we learned as children, just because we cover our heads with a blanket, it does not mean the monster in our room disappears. The goal is to come to accept what God says about us, and then apply those truths to our hearts.
Whether the mistakes we make are ongoing or just one-time events, we find it much easier to “hide” our sins than to confess them. People do not like change, because it usually does not feel good. Choosing to go from the comfortable and known to the possibility of something unknown and maybe even uncomfortable is difficult, but not impossible. The process that needs to take place is a sense of intentionality- we need to start living our life with intention, with a plan in mind. Those that lack a moral compass are much more likely to get lost than those that have one, but sometimes deviate from the correct path. The question is what needs to be done in order to heal our hearts from these constant errors, without feeling the guilt of the weight of our sins?
One of the biggest factors in our emotional rollercoaster after we have sinned or simply failed to live up to our own standards is a fear of rejection. This comes from the disappointment in our hearts when we let ourselves down. If I can’t even get over my own mistakes, we reason, how can anyone else accept me? The wonderful, wonderful good news though, is that God always accepts us, even in our dirtiest, most sinful moments! Romans 5:8 tells us that “... God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That is pretty powerful stuff that you might want to sit on for a moment, in fact, rest in forever. That is the power of grace! It is all encompassing. Sin is sin, whether it is murder in cold blood, or a little white lie, but God views all sins as the same, and even tells us that even our good works are as filthy rags. If you come to understand that nothing you ever do will earn God’s acceptance, and realize that He gives it freely, without reserve, without weighing and measuring your sins, your past, or your mistakes and failures, then you have the key to accepting His grace, mercy and love.
There is a cycle that is started when we sin. Sin-> Control-> Fear-> Shame. We sin, which comes natural to us because we are flawed beings (Rom. 3:23). The next step in this cycle is control, in which we try to control our surroundings to cover for the sin. We try to control our children and spouses to make sure that they don’t know what we have done or are doing, we control our bosses and coworkers to make sure they never see us for who we think we are inside. Essentially it is manipulation in order to protect our perceived character. This transitions easily into fear, fear of being found out, fear of being caught, fear of being exposed. This causes us to hide and withdraw from others, and soon leads into the darkest part of the cycle, which is shame. Shame is one of the most powerful tools in Satan’s arsenal. Shame causes even darker cycles to occur; thoughts of suicide, depression, eating disorders, murderous thoughts, etc. I would go so far as to say that shame is the culprit behind many of today’s mental illnesses.
So how do we avoid getting trapped in the cycle of guilt and shame caused by our failures? Well, the first step is to recognize where the guilt is coming from. There are two forms of what I would call “shame”; one is caused by the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11), and one is caused by Satan. When you are being convicted by the Holy Spirit, you will feel a slight nudging in your spirit to confess, or to stop doing something because it is wrong; however Satan tries to use his ploys on us to cause us to become wrapped up in the filthiness of our sins. Satan mimics the motions used by the Holy Spirit, and will attack your mind to cause self-accusations, torment, and deep grief over sins. This is the little voice that starts the cycle of shame. God does not condemn us when we ask forgiveness, and if what we are feeling weighs us down so much that it is painful, then we must come to realize it is not of God, but of Satan, the mocker. John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the fullest.” Prayer can help to discern which you are feeling, conviction or accusation; but also time and beginning to pay attention to the signs of the cycle starting in our minds. God’s greatest hope for His people is for them to have and accept the freedom that He offers.
I recently read an article about God’s love that said, “The only one surprised when we fail is us.” God knows our limits and capacities; He knows what we are and are not capable of, so why would He be surprised to see us sliming around in the muck that He dragged us out of yesterday? He’s not. But, that does not mean that He wants us there, or that it was His plan for us to be there again. The thing about freewill is that God does have a divine plan for our lives; He plans out the days that we will live, He plans out the glorious victories that we can have on earth, He plans out the successes and the gains, and He lovingly watches over us, hoping that we will follow that path laid out for us by Him (Jer. 29:11). However, just like we experience grief and heartache over our children when they fail, or when they choose to follow the wrong paths, our Heavenly Father weeps aloud when we turn our backs on His will for us.
Even though we can’t see it, sometimes when we fail at something miserably, it is not really a total loss; God often uses our mishaps as a way to bless His kingdom. How many times have you heard a life-changing testimony from someone who went straight from the pits of hell, into the loving, redeeming arms of Christ? There is much more impact in hearing of a victory that immense than just listening to a vanilla white testimony from someone who has never done any wrong in their life or has never experienced trials. Isaiah 61:3 says God’s plan was “To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.” So as you can see in this verse, they had to be in the ashes first; they had to be in mourning to get the joy, they had to have a spirit of heaviness to enjoy the garment of praise! And in the end, it brings glory to God, and hope and faith to yourself and others. It’s just one thing that we can look to in comfort when we see the line of our failures behind us; thankfully God can not only still use us when we are broken, but He can use our brokenness to His glory.
Alright, so we know now that God has a plan for our lives; we know that we can make the choice to act in our will, or to walk in His will. When we live in our will, we are going to mess up, but when we follow His will, we will be blessed. Now, what do we do about all the wrongs we have already done? How do we move on from the guilt of our past? A verse that comes to mind is Numbers 14:18, “The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” This is actually pretty intimidating, but if you look closely, there is a promise in there- He is ‘abounding in love, and forgiving of sin and rebellion’. What that means is, even though He says that He will punish the guilty, even to the future generations (it’s called generational curses, and you can see evidence of this in homes with abuse, drug addictions, and alcohol addictions), He says He will only punish the guilty. The great thing is that there is an easy way of moving from guilt to innocence in God’s eyes, and that is through the blood of Jesus.
Some people believe the concept of “once saved always saved”, and believe that they can say a few words, accept Jesus into their hearts, and then move on to have a sin-filled life with no repercussions of hell and punishment. I do not believe that concept one bit. I do, however, believe in eternal salvation through Christ, I don’t think that your salvation can be ripped from your hands every single time you make a mistake, but there is one thing that God tells us over and over again to do: confess our sins to Him. It is not like He does not know what we are doing, as I said before, He knows what, when, and how we are going to do it, but there is a disciplinary moment in our lives, when He looks at us sternly, but in love, and says, “What did you do....?” He expects our hearts to be honest with Him, as a loving Father. Psalms 32:5 says, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.” And you forgave the guilt of my sins.” Woo-hoo! Did you catch that last phrase? ‘You forgave the guilt of my sins!’ What an awesome honor it is to know that relief will come after we face up to what we have done to our Father. In 1 John it says that when we confess, it is a promise that He will cleanse us of our unrighteousness; if we are no longer unrighteous, then we are no longer held hostage by our sins, we are free from them- what a relief (1:9).
The tools that we gone over so far help us to move forward from failures, mistakes and that overwhelming guilt, but we still need to use something to keep us accountable and aware daily of Satan’s strategies against us. The Lord says in Psalm 32:8, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” God tells us right there in black and white that He is not only going to watch over us, but also counsel us and guide us. Living an intentional life means that we need to become aware of a few things, one being God’s word, two being the Holy Spirit’s discernment, and three being His hand in our lives.
1. The Bible tells us to meditate on the Scripture daily, reading it and praying for God to open our eyes to His wisdom (Josh. 1:8). The Bible is the living word of God, and therefore, we must understand that each day might bring new revelation to something that seemed inconsequential the day before. Reading the word every day can open up your heart to understanding things that you never knew before, and it opens you to revelations that might be useful to others around you in their times of need. We are all meant to be used as instruments of God’s word.
2. The discernment brought by the Holy Spirit is something that takes some time to comprehend. The Bible mentions that some actually gain a spiritual gift of discernment, but I think that it is something that most people really have to work on grasping. Praying for discernment is something that I highly recommend, as it is a tool that can help you in your daily walk. Discerning the Spirit can help you in many ways, for instance, discerning when God is telling you to do something or say something to someone, discerning when a thought that you have is of God, or of the flesh or Satan, and discerning what kind of things that you bring into your life such as friendships, movies, and music. God will use the urging of the Spirit in you to communicate His will. Learning to be still and hear that voice is an essential duty in this life.
3. The third part of living with intentionality is learning to understand when God is using a situation to teach you. God is with us always, but sometimes we go through extremely difficult times that don’t seem to make sense. Sometimes we even cry out to God asking why He is “doing this” to us. The thing that most people don’t grasp is that sometimes God allows those things to happen in order to shape you. The Bible talks about the process of refining gold in relation to cleansing our spirits; when gold is purified, it is put in the fire, and smelted until all of the impurities have dropped off of it. Once it comes out of the fire, it shines and glistens with a purity unlike any other. Anyone who has been in that fire knows the pain that you experience while burning away the old you, but in the end, you become a shining example of the love of God.
Now you know the steps to take, the signs to watch for, and the way to listen for His presence in your life. Getting over failures, sins, and guilt is a long and sometimes painful process, but once you have been refined, it will all be worth it. The first step now, is to take inventory of your life choices. You should take a moment to pray and meditate, looking at your life, and asking God to reveal to you some places where you are holding guilt and shame. Ask Him to reveal to you some things that you need to confess, perhaps not only to Him, but to others that you may be hurting by keeping secrets. The Bible says that all things hidden in the dark will be brought to light one day, so let the freedom that comes with moving from darkness to light penetrate your heart right now as you read this. Come to Him and confess, and make a covenant in your heart to continue living intentionally, so you can avoid the pain and risk of falling into the shame cycle again.
Releasing the shame also extends to those places where you are someone else has labeled you a failure. Sometimes, more important than asking forgiveness from others, is forgiving yourself; that’s right- close your eyes, and think of each moment that makes you angry at yourself for not doing what you thought you should have done, and in that place, ask God first to help you to forgive yourself, and accept grace, and then, say out loud, “I forgive myself for...., I will no longer hold the guilt and the shame, it has been taken away by the blood of Jesus Christ.” You will know when you really release it, usually it feels like a burden is lifted, you may start crying, you may choke on the words, but once it is gone, don’t accept it back in! It may take several times of praying this prayer to be able to let it go, but there is power in the tongue, and speaking it out loud gives God the glory for your freedom, and tells Satan where he can shove it.
Remember to meditate on the word daily, get in there and dig deep! Even if you are not used to reading the Bible, and you have no idea where to start, try going back through this message, and just go re-read the scriptures mentioned. Learning to inscribe His love and words in your heart is a great way to begin the healing process. Praying throughout the day whenever you are reminded of sins, mistakes, and guilt, will help you to be able to gain the control once again of your thoughts and actions. God will help you, and all you need to do is ask for the strength.
I leave you with this, which is my prayer for all of us:
16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:16-21