When my older daughter was young, one of her favorite movies was Apollo 13. I am not completely sure what the fascination was; she was too young by most estimates to really “get” the movie. At any rate, I spent quite a bit of time watching the movie, apparently internalizing the dialogue. One of the most meaningful phrases I’ve retained was uttered by Gene Krantz at Mission Control after the Apollo 13 mission was imperiled. In the film, when some of his engineers express doubt about NASA’s ability to bring the astronauts safely home, Krantz snaps, “Failure is not an option!” That phrase has resonated with me for years, and has become a rallying cry of sorts. Like most of you, I do not like to fail!
The urge to be perfect is ever-present. I want to be the perfectly supportive partner to my husband, the perfectly accomplished pastor’s wife to our church, the perfectly encouraging friend to my buddies, the perfectly hip/understanding/wise mother to my daughters, the perfectly prepared homeschool mom to my girls. Worthy goals in theory, to be sure, but utterly impossible in practice!
An all or nothing person from an early age, I tend to set high goals for myself and for others, and then scramble to meet my own expectations. Failure is a fear for people like me. I have discovered through the years that while I have lots of grace for others, I have very little for myself. I suspect that I hand Satan his greatest weapon on a daily basis: my fear of failure and my demand for perfection at any cost.
How is the quest for perfection a weapon in Satan’s arsenal? There are so many ways! When I focus exclusively on my goals and expectations, I set myself up as the author and perfecter of my plans; I stop asking God what He has for me to do, and instead chart my own course. Quite often that course is not the one God has for me or for my children at the moment! When that is true, and my chosen end eludes me, I feel like a failure. I have come to realize that as I strike out on my quest, I frequently miss the lessons God has for me to learn along the way. I am so focused on my own ends that I have no time for the insights the Lord wants to show me en route. Sometimes the “big lesson” is found along the journey, not at the destination I have identified! I realize I need to see the learning opportunities God provides along the way as blessings, and not as failures on my part.
Another way Satan uses my desires to be the best and my fear of failure against me is in the comparison game. You know that game: comparing yourself and your children to others and their children, judging your success by how you measure up to someone else. Many of us feel like failures when we compare ourselves to our friends! Someone smarter/more organized/better prepared/more patient can always be found—usually right in our own circle. I feel like a failure when my children do not like my lesson plans, or when I don’t get out of my pajamas all day, or when I really can’t decide if my math curriculum is the problem or my commitment to it is! I feel like a failure when it seems that “everyone else” is on time, and on track, and on topic. I compare myself to others without asking if I am doing my best in the life God has given me.
Before we decide, though, that feelings of failure are always from Satan, we need to evaluate them carefully. The determinations “I have failed” and “I am a failure” are two different conclusions.
I believe that God can use our fear of failure for good. He may allow us to feel that we are failing in some manner in order to grab our attention. Sometimes our feelings of failure are a call to re-think our plans or methods. That sneaking suspicion that we are not doing as well as we expected to, or planned to, may be God’s gentle leading into another path. There is no shame in course correcting. This journey of homeschooling is an inexact science; what “should work” with one child might not—and that is okay! While it may take some time to find the best fit (with curriculum, with schedule, with motivation) for each of your students, joy can be found in the journey. We need to keep the end in mind, and remain committed to the end, not necessarily the methods of achieving the end. After all, many routes may lead successfully to the treasure. Sometimes our feelings of failure are a call to recommit ourselves to the Lord and His call. We can get so caught up in the academic pursuits of our home school that we forget our responsibility to nurture the souls of our children, as well as the need to nurture our own relationship with God the Father. Our feelings of “I have failed” may be a timely wakeup call from the Lord.
In contrast, the thought “I am a failure” surely comes from our Enemy. Satan wants us to feel demoralized and powerless and hopeless. When we are focused on ourselves we are not listening to God. Satan does not have to worry about us raising godly men and women when we are consumed with thoughts of personal inadequacy. The enemy would rather have us hopeless and derailed than seeking answers and new direction from God. When we feel the fear of failure welling up, we must strive to remember the call we have received to homeschool, and keep before us the purposes that drove us to that decision. God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and of a sound mind! We need to use our sound minds to recognize the tactics of Satan and turn to a truer way. We need to remember that we are committed to raising children who love to learn, who are mastering the skills of learning, who remain curious and open to ideas, and who know God intimately and are able and eager to make Him known. When you begin to feel like a failure, ask yourself some questions: Has God given you children to love and nurture? Has God called you to homeschool? Has He given you resources (including His spirit) to accomplish the task? Do your children know you love them? Do your children see you eager to help them learn? Do your children see you working through your fears (even the fear of failing them) towards victory? Our children are the recipients of some of our deepest love; because our love for them is so intense, our fear of failing them is equally intense. We must be on our guard against Satan, and recognize that the Father of Lies attacks us at our most vulnerable points.
So if failure is not an option, what do we do with our fear that we are failing? I say, give it to God. Ask Him if the feeling is a nudge from the Holy Spirit, drawing us to new insights on our home school or ourselves. We should also ask the Lord to reveal truth to us if indeed the fears are from Satan, designed to derail our efforts by sinking us into despair or trapping us in endless comparison to others. God wants to give us the victory, and wants us to enjoy peace in Him along the way.