When Failure Surprises You

I dragged myself out of the lecture hall feeling relieved that the nightmare was over. My head was spinning. I had been awake since four in the morning, cramming for an exam that seemed impossible to pass. I felt defeated. I was always the nerd who was excited to take a test after carefully planned study sessions and a good night’s rest. I never imagined turning into the zombie college student who barely had her life together. The one who visibly forgot to comb her hair before the exam and chuckled nervously when her friend asked her if she was ready to take the test.

“How could this happen?” I found myself wondering. I felt helpless. I had spent the previous two days focused solely on the test material, completing all the practice problems with three people trying to teach me various concepts. It seemed to come so naturally to them. Even my friend who had expressed concern over his ability to finish even one practice problem was teaching me the material by the end of our study session.

I couldn’t help but compare this experience to my high school study habits. When it came to math and science, I always excelled. My classmates assumed that I was simply “smart” and good at this stuff. Only I knew about the countless Friday nights I spent at home studying or the hours I spent with teachers who were willing to help after class to make sure I understood the material. I was obsessive about learning. I had this gusto to master concepts, to be able to solve problems on my own after working hard to understand how they worked. This was me.

Somewhere between graduating fifth in my class and entering my junior year of college, I lost this part of me. School was no longer as exciting as it used to be. I didn’t recognize myself as I began to resent going to class and completing homework. I did what I had to in order to keep my grades up, but there wasn’t any passion behind the papers I wrote. I became increasingly passive about school. It was quickly becoming the norm for me to come to class unprepared with my expensive textbooks sitting in the corner of my bedroom unopened.

A few days after the exam, I stumbled across this verse: “Be not deceived. God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that he shall also reap.” Galatians 6:7

A rush of embarrassment flooded me as I let the words and their implications sink in. I had spent more time laughing at my friend’s jokes as we “suffered” through class than trying to grasp the material. The practice problems given to us the second week of lecture were forgotten about until forty-eight hours before the exam. My book had yet to be opened and I hadn’t bothered to review my notes once since penning them.

While I had been busy feeling like a victim and complaining to all my friends about how “hard” my class was, I hadn’t even been trying. There’s no wonder why I felt I had barely passed the test, everyone knows you can’t try to learn three weeks of material in two days. It seems so obvious in retrospect that I had been trying to push the blame outward, trying to blame it on my brain’s affinity for the soft sciences and fear of the hard sciences rather than my lazy choices.

I had let the material pile up until it was too overwhelming to conquer. I set myself up for failure. But this type of failure is sneaky. It wasn’t like one day I threw all my notes away or sabotaged myself in one run. The failure came in small, tiny missteps each day like not taking the time to review my notes for ten minutes after class.

Lately I had developed an “all or nothing attitude.” I would either study for a class or not study. I would pray or not pray. I failed to start so many things because they seemed too overwhelming. But God understands our struggles and the fear that drives procrastination. He tries to talk some sense into us through biblical examples like Paul.

Paul says in his letter to Philipi: “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect, but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended for Christ Jesus.” Paul knew he wasn’t perfect, but he kept going. He “pressed toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God.” He did not let fear of failure stop him from acting but instead sowed the seeds of progress by taking small steps in the right direction each day.

So take that tiny step, even if it’s saying a short prayer before cracking open that textbook you’ve been too scared to start because you feel too behind. You may find it’s not nearly as difficult or as scary as it seems when you take it in small doses. Most importantly, remember that God understands our struggles, even if they seem silly like making the wrong choice and watching too many episodes on Netflix when you should have been studying.

 

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