My response to failure can too often be blame, guilt, and denial. You might reasonably wonder: does God blame me, too? Will He point fingers and try to guilt me into being better? Does He just look away and ignore my problems? Or does He respond in a different way?
This article shares what I have come to believe in my own life. I look forward to having an open discussion with you about these ideas in the comments below!
Let’s take another look at the rotting tree. Remember my neighbors in Michigan? When they decided to cut down a tree next to their house, the earth shook. But when the arborists tried to cut through the trunk with their enormous chain saws, they couldn’t do it. The saws jumped back and sparks flew. Unbeknownst to them, previous owners of the house had discovered rot in the trunk of that tree (like in the third tree picture below) after a limb had broken off. They had called a tree surgeon who had scraped the rot out, and then filled the cavity with cement. The cemented tree was incredibly healthy and no one had any idea there had been previous rot (the fourth tree).
Can that happen with us today when we suffer a big wound, even when some rot has developed? The answer is yes! We do not need to walk through life with an identity of failure and shame. I believe that what the Bible says about Jesus is true: He came to Earth to take away our pain, even the pain of our mistakes. But the first step in the process of dumping our mistakes and our shame is to admit that these wounds are real.
“Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means ‘son of Timaeus’), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’ So they called to the blind man, ‘Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.’ Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him. The blind man said, ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’ ‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’
Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.”Mark 10:46-52
This amazing story is full of surprises. First, Jesus chooses to stop and bless Bartimaeus. This man who was blind from birth and at the very bottom level of society was begging on the street. Everybody told him to shut up, but Jesus stopped to talk to him.
Then, another surprise. When blind Bart responds to Jesus’ call, he left his cloak behind. A historian has pointed out to me that Bart probably lived in that cloak. He likely slept in it, kept his food and money and whatever other possessions he had in it. Leaving it behind was shocking.
Maybe the biggest surprise is that Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The answer seems obvious for a blind man. But Jesus asked the question anyway.
What Do You Want Jesus to Do for You?
Unless we know what’s wrong in our lives, it’s hard to answer that question. It’s certainly all right to pray generic prayers like “Please fix me up, Lord” or “Just bless me.” But if we are really honest with God—especially about our mistakes and our wounds—He will often be much more responsive when we clearly tell him our needs.
I believe that Jesus is asking each of us today “What do you want me to do for you?” And if we want healing (“spiritual cement”) poured into us, we have to respond as honestly as Bart did. Being in denial about what’s wrong actually separates us from God’s healing power.
Many people don’t know what to ask Jesus. They cannot clearly state what’s wrong. They may have symptoms, but they can’t define the root cause of the symptoms. I’m guessing that Bart felt enormous frustration and fear for the future, but the obvious felt need, the cause underneath his frustration, was his lack of sight.
I’ve talked with so many artists, who complain about the constant stress they carry. It’s fine to pray, “Dear Lord, please remove my stress.” But if the person can zero in on what’s causing the stress, God’s response can eliminate the root cause. An example might be a painter who has not been able to sell his or her work and is ashamed because of it. More specific prayers for the painter might be: “Lord, show me how to get rid of the shame I’m feeling.” Or “Lord, please restore my trust in You.” Or “Lord, please show me how to eliminate the fear of failure I’m carrying.” These prayers all connect to a core insecurity, not just a quick fix.
I have a close friend who is a very gifted musical performer—a top-notch concert pianist and college professor. For years, she was deathly afraid of public speaking, either in front of a class or especially at her performances. Yet she realized that her concert audiences really needed to hear her speak, because it brought the excitement and the meaning of the music to life.
As she looked back into her history, she discovered that her fear of speaking started when she was in grade school. She was born in the United States and lived here until the middle of grade school. Her family then moved back to the country her parents had originally come from because of her father’s work. Her parents wanted only the best for her, but all at once my friend found herself in a different culture. Although she knew the language, she became very timid about speaking. And in the process, she began to doubt her abilities. Subconsciously, she began to feel that there was something wrong with her. She was wounded.
Several years later, her family moved back to the United States. Once again, the same fear of speaking gripped my friend, even though she knew two languages fluently. This second move reopened the pain of the wound. She continued to grow and achieve wonderful things with her music, but the wound festered inside her. She believed the lie that she did not have a voice.
Today, something has radically changed, because she deeply enjoys her teaching—especially the interactions with her students. Her fear of speaking is gone. And her performances are filled with truly interesting antidotes that are spoken to the audiences freely with joy and humor. How did this happen?
While working on her doctorate in piano performance, this friend was surrounded by a caring community of artists. Even though the initial wound happened years before, her friends helped her see that what had occurred when she was a sensitive child still influenced her. And although she had previously believed for years that she did not have a worthwhile voice, they lovingly showed her that this was a lie.
As she began to see truth, healing began—and over time, the rotting lie was replaced with spiritual cement. She specifically answered Jesus’ question (“What do you want me to do for you?”) by praying, “Jesus, please take away the lie that I cannot speak.” My friend had to practice speaking in public—to learn to walk in her gift.
Her community encouraged her, and she soon gained genuine freedom. And as this happened, she saw more clearly that God cares personally for her and that He had transformed her life. This is contagious. She eagerly and often tells her story of healing.
Artists: name the pain, figure out what’s causing it, and pray that God would take away the root cause. We do not need to carry around rotting wounds any longer.
How does God respond to failure?
God is ready and willing to eliminate lies about our identity and show us the truth about who we are. And He surrounds us with community that will help us recognize and unwrap lies and then see the truth about who we are designed to be.
“Praise the Lord, who forgives and heals and redeems your life . . . who satisfies your desires with good things.”Psalm 103:1-5
Regardless of the false lies that we believe from the world, God is eager to transform our identity by bringing to life His good dreams and desires. Our job is to be willing to draw close to Him and to let go of the false-self persona we have been trying to build for ourselves. These never fit very well anyway. But the process isn’t easy. We have to practice and work hard to develop the gifts and the dreams that God has planned for us. When we discover God’s dream for our lives, we can release our fear and stop pretending. We can take risks that lead to real creativity and freedom. The process becomes truly exciting.
My good friend Colin Harbinson first told me of this prayer years ago, and I now pray it for all of us.
Dear Father, I pray that our wounds will not become our identity, and that our woundedness will not become our destiny.
Letting God work in our lives can be hard because we can’t see Him. How do we actually communicate with the Creator of the universe and hear more directly about what He wants us to do with our lives? You can read more here: How Do I Hear from God as an Artist?
Photo credits: Christina Calderon; Christina Calderon; Isabelle Gilman on Unsplash; Jon Tyson on Unsplash; Rosie Fraser on Unsplash; Kevin Grieve on Unsplash