The concept of trying is plastered everywhere in our society. You don’t have to go far to find a motivational picture with some variance of the words “Keep Trying!” calling out to you. It’s inescapable. And yet, for all the pithy slogans, we still get gummed up in the sheer weight of what it means to try.
Why? Because trying is terrifying. You run the risk of putting everything you are out there just to have someone or something shoot it down, and a lot of times we’re scared that someone will be us. It’s far easier to handle the idea of us giving something everything we’ve got but unfair circumstances beat us to the punch. It’s another thing entirely to face the idea that our own efforts might not be enough. At the end of the day, we aren’t afraid of trying, we’re afraid of failing.
There’s a passage in Exodus that is far and away my favorite instance of God speaking directly to someone here on earth. In Exodus chapters three and four Moses encounters God through the burning bush and gets the startling marching orders to return to Egypt and set his people free. Moses is, needless to say, shocked at the idea that he of all people should be the one to go to Egypt and speak to Pharoah. In the midst of speaking to the God of the universe, Moses starts up the spiritual equivalent of a tennis match. He lobs excuse after excuse at God and God bats each one down with ease and no small degree of patience until Moses finally gets on the road.
This is one of my favorite Bible stories for a myriad of reasons that I could talk about in much greater length than a blog post. In a recent reread, though, I was struck by the spiritual tennis match in particular. That tennis match is the root for all fear of trying. That’s where we lay out all our fears about being our own worst enemy and try to explain to God that we are in fact the worst person for the job. For Moses, his key points were no one would listen to him, he wasn’t anyone of significance, and he stuttered. Maybe those reasons aren’t similar to your own, but we all have our excuses that we set before God like a powerpoint presentation to say “I couldn’t possibly do this! Look at this! Look at all the ways I could fail you!”.
But here’s the thing, God’s not calling you wondering and hoping you won’t fail in anything. He’s calling you knowing full well that you will.
You are absolutely going to fail, but that by no means changes your need to try.
God isn’t looking for us to be some perfect human that never makes any mistakes and always performs to perfection. Sending Jesus to atone for our sins wasn’t some last-ditch effort to get us to stop being miserable little failures who could never get anything done. Sending Jesus was an act to provide a road back to himself because we could never do it on our own. As it says in Ephesians 2:8: “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” So much of God’s love for us is based around how often we fall short, and he still invites us to be part of the story. He still calls us.
So bearing that in mind, our spiritual tennis match is essentially over before we can even begin it. The story of God isn’t contingent on our effort. It doesn’t fail if we do. The only way we could fail with lasting, heartbreaking consequences is to actively choose not to be a part of the story. It’s not our story, it’s God’s. We’re simply getting invited to be part of the telling. Our failures, while painful to us, can be overcome in the scope of what God is actively doing. In fact, a lot of times God turns around and uses them to further his mission. I’m not saying we should then just throw in the towel and not try at all because God is still God. I’m saying we don’t have to be held prisoner by our fear of failure. We can still be called, we can still be used, and we can still be part of the story.
And anyone who knows the continuing story of the Exodus knows this: Moses did fail. Often. Repeatedly. By human standards, he could be a complete mess sometimes. Still, the moments where Moses loses his temper or doubts himself into inaction are the most relatable to me, because I see myself in those same failures. I tend to wince as I read because it hits a little too close to home. As an outside reader, I want to shake Moses and tell him to get his act together, all the while knowing I’m just as bad when it comes to failing.
And yet, God knew all these things about Moses when he called him that day at the burning bush. He didn’t call Moses and then get horribly shocked when Moses stumbled or failed. When He told Moses to go to Egypt and lead his people out, he did so knowing about every time Moses would stumble. He knew, and he called him anyway. So isn’t it safe to bet that God, who made you and knows your story from beginning to end, might be able to handle whatever shortcomings you might have?
So yes, you will fail. Often. Repeatedly. Spectacularly. The difference is that we have absolutely no reason to tell God that we shouldn’t even bother with trying. We are failing humans, but we are part of a story that cannot fail, and that is a very encouraging thought to me. So try your hardest, dust yourself off whenever you fall, and know that God is still carrying out his story and calling you to himself. No spiritual tennis match necessary.
Let’s find some joy,