Posted in the front of the room in my high-school chemistry class, a sign ominously read “Flunk Now and Avoid the Rush.” The teacher, Mr. Faile (his real name), had a wonderful sense of humor—and while I didn’t distinguish myself as a chemistry scholar, he still remains one of my all-time favorite teachers. Of all the things to remember form high school, his sign seemed to stick with me, and has now become a life-lesson for me.
Serving as a caregiver for thirty years for my wife who lives with severe disabilities, failure seems a daily companion. I often laugh when telling audiences that, “As a caregiver, I’ve forgotten more failures than most people will ever make.”
It’s not an exaggeration. When recklessly hurling yourself to deal with a medical nightmare for decades, failure is inevitable. Failure to be patient, failure to trust God, failure to live up to promises, failure to make good decisions—and the list seems to stretch to a distant horizon.
At nearly every “crash and burn,” I seemed to recall Mr. Faile’s sign and wondered if I was missing a larger truth. Yet, I still drove myself, often without mercy, to achieve the impossible. Pushing myself to almost inhuman levels to avoid failure, I frustratingly discovered failure waiting for me at seemingly every corner and task—and I often felt like a sincere player in a rigged game.
I daily face things that are insurmountable, and yet I spent an embarrassingly large number of years thinking I could somehow get out in front of this and provide solutions. My wife’s body is broken, but I didn’t break her—nor can I fix her. It’s simply beyond me—even though as a caregiver, I’m about as good as they come. I’ve fought insurance companies (and never lost), I’ve worked with more than sixty physicians in twelve hospitals, and I’ve managed a $9 million medical nightmare for three decades. But as competent as I am, I haven’t fixed it—and I don’t even think I’ve slowed it down.
I threw myself at the task of being the rescuer and fixer, only to crash and burn in such a manner that brought greater misery and heartache to myself and those I loved. When I turned to destructive coping mechanisms to deal with pain of coming up short, I only compounded the issue, but still kept thinking I could “white-knuckle” my way out of my moral failures, as well.
Why? Because I thought it was all up to me.
Mr. Faile’s sign rang true when I finally reached the apex of what I could bear, and collapsed in a heap and rushed to total failure.
Admitting powerlessness is a brutal experience, but it usually takes an even worse set of experiences to bring us to that point. Yet simply crying “Uncle” is not enough.
Alcoholics Anonymous (and all of the sister 12-step programs) have helped millions pick up the pieces by stating in Step 1 “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.”
Whereas the twelve step programs focus on addictions such as alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, and food, the principle of step one applies across the board: left to our own devices, our lives will become unmanageable.
How much agony am I willing to inflict upon myself and others before admitting I need help?
Some of us learn from signs such as Mr. Faile’s. Others of us have to pee on the electric fence for ourselves. Admitting that we made a mess of our life is not easy—nor is admitting that we need help. Yet, that admission is the starting point for a calmer, healthier, richer, and more meaningful life. The sooner we admit we are powerlessness and not the master of our own domain, the sooner we can accept our God-given role as a steward and not an owner.
Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be. Coach John Wooden.
Feeling out of control is terrifying. But learning we don’t have to be in control—is freedom beyond our wildest dreams. Accepting that freedom is not a one-time event; it’s daily—often hourly (sometimes moment by moment).
I still wrestle with trying to be in control and “win at all costs,” but I have better tools to push back against that belief system; I have Mr. Faile’s sign. More importantly, I have God’s word. I’ve learned that I don’t need God’s help simply to deal with my wife’s medical challenges, or dealing with financial pressures, or to achieve my personal goals. No, I need God’s help on all those things, and so much more. I need His help on a core level—the whole system’s out of whack. I’ve learned it’s hard to cry out to a Savior that you don’t think you need. I’ve learned that God allows us to collapse into a heap if that’s what we choose, in order to bring us to our knees.
I’ve learned that I need a Savior—I’ve seen my work; I REALLY need a Savior.
The Apostle Paul displayed his profound understanding of this in his letter the church in Galatia:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Gal. 2:20 NIV
The life I live in this body …as a caregiver, as a husband, as a father, as a businessman, I live by faith in the Son of God. It’s not about me. Just that one scripture (and there are thousands more to reinforce the thought) frees me from the burden of it “being all up to me.” All the pressure is off—if I choose to accept His provision; if I choose to flunk early and avoid the rush by admitting that I need a Savior. The great news about all this is our Savior did not fail. His victory over sin and death counts as ours when we put our trust in Him. Resting in His victory and admitting I’m not up to the job on my own, I am supremely qualified for whatever task He brings to me because of His strength, His grace, and His faithfulness.
Once again, Paul clearly gets this when he declares, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13 NKJV