Are you barking at turtles?
Meet Belle. All eight pounds of her. Normally the most content and happy three-year-old yorkie mix you’ll find.
On one of her morning inspections of our place, she discovered a turtle.
Immediately, she was obsessed.
She began barking furiously, commanding the creature to be gone.
You see, this is her job. Every morning she runs out the front door to clear the premises.
And usually everyone cooperates.
Deer disappear back into the woods, geese take a flying leap, and grasshoppers scamper off to the bushes.
Her desire for the turtle to move along is appropriate for her calling.
But barking at the turtle got her nowhere.
How do you preach to yourself when you feel like a failure?
- It may be ministry inside the walls of your home or efforts to impact other spaces.
- Maybe it’s the job you’re paid to do or the calling you feel compelled to follow.
- It might even be an assessment of where life is compared to where you thought it would be.
Whatever it is …
When it doesn’t move along and behave like you expected, you may find yourself in the middle of the yard … frustration building, questions swirling, and doubt rising.
You might just be barking at turtles.
Before you blame the turtle, consider if you are doing these three things that are skewing your perspective and stealing your joy.
1-Using a defective definition
If you feel like a failure, it’s because you have a vision of what success should look like. So who authored your definition? Even if the ultimate goal is founded on Biblical principles, you interjected timetables, progress indicators, and actionable items.
He who defines the terms wins the debate.
If you are defining “failure” as a lack of X amount of success in Y terms and on Z’s schedule, then you might need to step away from the dictionary.
And step back before the throne. Ask God if you’re truly failing based on His purposes or just impatient based on your plans.
And while you’re there, take a good look at who is actually sitting on that throne. Is God really the one ruling your perspective or have you usurped some authority in the matter? Are you trying to manage results when all you’ve been called to do is execute your part?
When we relinquish the illusion of control and surrender control to God, people will not be our problem and outcomes will not be our responsibility. And peace in the waiting will win that debate.
but God gave the growth.
So neither he who plants
nor he who waters is anything,
but only God who gives the growth.
He who plants and he who waters are one,
and each will receive his wages according to his labor.”
(1 Cor. 3:6-8)
2-Overlooking an invisible impact
You want to make a difference.
You’re willing to do the hard work and even endure the hardship if what you’re doing matters.
And it’s not that you’re looking for recognition, but you do want to be able to recognize that where you walked, the path became more level for someone else.
We’re human. So in our human nature, we look for human evidence. And that’s the problem.
“Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.”
~ Albert Einstein
Some of the greatest impacts are never actually seen.
Sometimes it’s because those who are impacted are embarrassed they are so impacted.
Sometimes it’s because those who need encouraged are the least able to boomerang encouragement.
Sometimes it’s because the effects of the impact aren’t known until later down the road.
And sometimes …
God might be shielding us so we don’t become prideful. He might even be using the lack of earthly affirmation to draw us deeper into His heavenly confirmation.
If you’re asking, “Does it even matter what I do?” run — don’t walk — run into the arms of Jesus.
If you don’t turn to God for the answer, there is one waiting to exploit that question.
And I know from experience that he loves to use our desire to be useful to the kingdom against us.
So take heart and take hold. Don’t beat yourself up that you need affirmation. But don’t rely on it. And if this is a cause of your feelings of failure, remember:
You cannot underestimate the impact of the unseen – on ALL fronts.
3-Asking the wrong question
Years ago I heard Priscilla Shirer frame the Exodus 3 burning bush narrative between Moses and God:
God: “Go tell Pharoah to ‘Let My People Go!’”
Moses: “You have GOT to be kidding me! Who am I that I should be able to do that?”
God: “It doesn’t matter who you are. You go tell ‘em who I AM!” ¹
In Jen Wilkin’s book Women of the Word, she also explores Exodus 3, noting how God responded to Moses’s questions and insecurity:
“Rather than answer him, ‘Moses, you are my chosen servant. You are my precious creation, a gifted and wise leader,’ God responds by completely removing Moses from the subject of the discussion and inserting himself.” ²
She goes on to observe:
“Our insecurities, fears, and doubts can never be banished by the knowledge of who we are. They can only be banished by the knowledge of ‘I AM.’” ²
This principle applies not only in answering the call at the beginning but also in assessing progress in the middle or the end. When we get to the point of feeling like a failure, we often ask questions like:
- “Where did I go wrong?”
- “Why aren’t my efforts producing more fruit?”
- “What should I have done differently?”
- “How can I make this better?”
We need to travel back to grammar school and start with different questions, beginning with the “Who.”
Who I am and what I’ve done is not the subject of the narrative.
Who God is and what He’s doing are the concepts that fill the subject, the predicate, and everything in between.
In the process of focusing on God as the subject, I’ve always learned more about what I should adjust, pivot, or let go. I do get clarity about my part in His plan.
But if I focus on those questions to begin with, they only breed anxiety and self-fulfilling bouts of defeat and discouragement.
On the surface, it might seem like a small adjustment to your glasses.
In reality, it’s like the difference between a toy magnifier and the Hubble telescope.
So start with the right questions.
When you do, the answers make so much more sense.
Finally, when it comes to this issue of feeling like a failure, remember that it’s not all up to you.
Some turtles are just going to sit there, regardless of how loud you bark.
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1. Priscillar Shirer, Beth Moore, Kay Arthur, Anointed ~ Transformed ~ Redeemed (Nashville, Tennessee: LifeWay Church Resources, 2008), Session 1 DVD teaching (paraphrased)
2. Jen Wilkin, Women of the Word (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2014), 26