Progress, Failure, And Why You Can’t Always Tell the Difference
If you were to ask me five years ago, or even a year ago, if I knew what direction my life would take, I could not have imagined a more different outcome. If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you might have clued in to the fact that it began as a way for me to process a hard season in my life.
And though that particular season has passed, I came to realize writing was a life-line for me – a way to better understand myself, the world around me, and how God’s Word speaks to all of the above. Though the original focus has shifted, the blog endures like a trusty old friend.
Reading old posts makes me cringe a little – the lack of editing is a bit embarrassing – but it also serves as a reminder of all the ways in which I’ve grown, as writer, and as a person. Though some of the same struggles remain, there are issues that no longer affect me in the same way. Hurts that no longer hurt. Clarity instead of confusion. Understanding in place of judgment.
I suppose we could say it’s progress.
Progress is difficult to measure at times.
For some reason and by God’s design, it’s easier to notice progress from a distance. Between the passage of time and maturity (though those don’t always go hand in hand), we can make out the faint outline of growth. Sometimes, I have incorrectly assumed there’s been no progress because I didn’t progress as expected. I expected a straight line pointed directly at its destination when the reality is quite the opposite. Progress is a tango of mistakes and missteps entwined with humility, growth, and repentance making its way around the dance floor leaving you a little breathless and unsure of how you got to your destination.
Or possibly, it looks more like the scribbles of a two year old.
It doesn’t look like we think it ought to, and so we assume we have failed.
Sometimes progress looks like failure.
When I have been emptied of my strength, it is then that I find myself at the throne of Grace.
When my clever backup plans have failed, it is then that I throw myself at God’s mercy.
When I am at the bottom of the pit, it is then that my eyes look towards heaven and plead for rescue.
God is always in the business of rescuing, but not in the ways that we assume He will. He is less interested in our problems than He is in our souls and will always work to make us whole from the inside out - not the other way around. This means we are reduced to a mess BEFORE we are restored, often to our humiliation and before the judgmental eyes of those around us. Our pride must suffer its fatal blow.
God waits patiently for us to come to the end of ourselves for it is then, and ONLY then, that we are ready to set aside our own agendas and follow Him. If healing comes from our surrender than our progress begins when we give up. Often what we think is a giant step backward is the beginning of a new adventure. For its in our failure our eyes are opened, and our hearts are awakened. When we no longer have all the answers, we begin to look to the One who has been trying to get our attention and realize He had the answers all along.
It reminds of me of the old Sunday school song:
Don’t build your house on a sandy land,
Don’t build it too near the shore,
Well, it might look kinda nice
But you’ll have to build it twice,
Yeah, you’ll have to build your house once more.
You better build you house upon a rock,
Make a firm foundation on a solid spot
Though the storms make come and go,
But the peace of God you will know.
If you don’t enjoy building your house twice, build it correctly the first time. Build it on a foundation that will stand the test of time rather than the ‘things’ our culture tells us are important. I didn’t build my first house on the correct foundation; I built it on the opinions and fear of man and when it came crashing down, I found myself having to rebuild my life on a new foundation and identity – that of Jesus Christ.
Sometimes progress means destroying what is to make room for what will be.
In our renovating process, Jim and I quickly learned to allocate the same amount of time for a room’s demolition as we did for the rebuilding. While it was relatively easy to rip out walls and carpet, it took a great deal of time to pull out every old, rusty nail. It took even longer to reinstall the electrical wires, the heating vents, and plumbing pipes. It was hard and tedious work! No one was really interested in our progress at that stage; a tour of a room with no walls and exposed wiring is not very exciting.
Destroying a room is a vital and necessary step to rebuilding. Without a clean slate, the new room isn’t possible; you cannot build on a foundation that still has rubble. Without the proper electrical and plumbing work, the room cannot function. A room may look pretty, but what use is it if there’s no heat or light within it?
God is not interested in how pretty we look. He is far more interested in the renovation of our hearts – how we think and feel underneath the layers that no one notices. In His desire to mold you into His image, God will often first have the unenviable task of stripping away the lies you’ve built your life on so He can build you on a foundation that will last. It may seem like He hates you, but it is His unwavering love for you that causes Him to intervene and save you from yourself.
“For the Lord does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.” Lamentations 3:33
A parent will discipline their child and say ‘this hurts me more than this hurts you’ (though most kids don’t believe it), the same is true for God. He doesn’t delight in our downfall, but He’s too invested in us to allow us down a path that will ultimately ruin us.
Progress is obvious to everyone but us.
I’m not sure why God designed it this way, but in His wisdom, this is generally how it works. As we grow, we may be the last ones to see it in ourselves. Others are more likely to see the softening of our hearts and the new humility or strength within us.
Have you ever flown in an airplane and experienced turbulence? It’s a jarring and unnerving event and my least favourite part of flying. While I am clenching the armrests, breathing deeply, and convinced I’m going to die, the observer on the ground looks up and sees only a mighty jet soaring effortlessly through the sky. He doesn’t see the turbulence only the progress. I feel only the turbulence with little sense of anything else!
But of this we can be sure….
As we live every day in dependence on Christ, He will lead us to our destination. We may fall and stumble, but He is there to catch us and set us back on our feet. If we fix our eyes on Jesus, He will lead the way. Our responsibility is to follow, and God will take care of the rest.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9