The Fear of Failure & a Dive into Uncertainty

A Sunday or two ago Fr Dennis utilized a prop for his homily; he brought out a chair. I half expected him to pull a Clint Eastwood and start talking to an empty chair, but instead he started to explain his analogy by comparing people’s faith in God like this chair:


In the event I need to sit in that chair, I trust and have faith that it will support my weight. People all too often treat their faith life just like this. They will only ever rely on God when they can no longer hold themselves. Once their knees are buckling, they fall exhausted and broken into the chair. However, this is the wrong way to do it. We must constantly be relying on God. Always sitting in His love and operating our lives out of that ‘chair’.


This got me thinking about how I treat this “chair” and where am I with my faith in God.

I found myself not away from the chair, and not quite sitting in it either. I found myself hovering just above the seat, like I was air-sitting or squatting just above the cushion. It looks and feels as though I am living my life out of this trust and faith but in reality, I am still trying to do everything out of my own strength…


I recently finished two incredible books that I highly recommend, Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield and Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. Both speak of strength and more apt, when your strength gives out.

Gates of Fire is about the 300 Spartans that defend the Hot Gates at Thermopylae from the advancing Persian army. As the last battle is about to begin, one of the most respected Spartans, second only to King Leonidas, is called upon to give a rallying speech. Dienekes says, “Brothers, I’m not a king or a general. I’ve never held rank beyond that of a platoon commander. So I say to you now only what I would say to my own men, knowing the fear that stands unspoken in each heart—not of death, but worse, of faltering or failing, of somehow proving unworthy in this, the ultimate hour.” The Greeks no longer feared dying, but feared they would fail country, family, and the brother next to him by not fighting well enough or long enough.


"...knowing the fear that stands unspoken in each heart—not of death, but worse, of faltering or failing, of somehow proving unworthy in this, the ultimate hour.”


John Eldredge in Wild at Heart also dives into this concept and how men have the innate fear of being ‘found out’. He states, “this is every man’s deepest fear: to be exposed, to be found out, to be discovered as an impostor, and not really a man…if there’s one thing a man does know, he knows he is made to come through. Yet he wonders…Can I? Will I? When the going gets rough, when it really matters, will he pull it off?”

With Father’s homily and these two literary dives in mind I find myself thinking about failure.

This fear of failure can be crippling. It can leave us frozen and it keep us from doing what God is asking of us.


We need to be able to overcome this fear. The question is ‘how’?



I propose a two-wave attack.

1.       Surrender

2.       Practice



‘Surrender’. After figuring out that this fear is indeed real, legitimate, and not just a fluttering thought, you must acknowledge it, accept it, and invite Christ right into it. Sit in that ‘chair.’ Give everything to God. Surrender your fear to Him.

Easier said than done, right? It may be an iterative process where each time it comes up you give a little more to God. Each time you go to Christ in prayer you can go a little deeper. Each time you surrender more and more.

It’s important to note that it’s not about hiding from your fears but rather letting God into those fears. Courage is not the absence of fear but acting in the face of fear.


"It’s not about hiding from your fears but rather about letting God into those fears"




‘Practice’. Practice failure? What?! How can a person practice failure?

This is the step where we get our body involved.

The fear of failure has kept me from diving into what God has asked of me far too many times. I’m a planner and an engineer; I need a plan and certainty. But God does not ask for our plans or our coefficient of certainty. He asks for our trust. In order for me to trust in God more easily, I want to be more okay with the possibility of failure. I need to be okay with failure in order to help break that fear-ice that keeps me from diving in.  (Also, the world’s view of success can be quite different than God’s.)

"God does not ask for our plans or our coefficient of certainty. He asks for our trust."


So, in exploring how to become more comfortable with this, I think back to my marathon (see our post “Why Run?”). There, I sought to mirror my spiritual life, in my pursuit of God, with my physical life. I now want to do that again but this time with exercise in failure.

My plan is to change my lifting routine to include more “until failure” sets. For example, adding the extra weight to the bench press until I can no longer get more than one rep. And, with the refusal of my muscles followed by the bar coming back down too early with a final crashing clang on the rails, I hope to practice failure in the hopes of a renewed trust and a new ability to surrender to His ‘asks’.



You may be thinking, “That’s a cute idea and all, but I think the idea of failure may be run out a few different ways. I mean doing God’s will certainly isn’t a failure!”

The point of this ‘practice’ is to be more comfortable to jump, rather than stand on the diving board shaking in fear. The basis behind this idea is to help change my mindset.


Failing is far better than never trying.

Failing can be a good thing because it means you tried.


The hope in training like this is to help keep my focus on this. To be just as unafraid of 5 more pounds as I am of diving head first into whatever God asks of me.


Naturally, we are inclined to be so mathematical and calculating that we look upon uncertainty as a bad thing…Certainty is the mark of the common-sense life; gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, we do not know what a day may bring forth. This is generally said with a sigh of sadness; it should rather be an expression of breathless expectation.

(Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest)


In His strength,


Paul McDonaldComment