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I Can Be a Failure: Thoughts on Christian Identity

I struggle with what I call the shadow: my name for that sudden darkening of my inner vision, the acedia or spiritual apathy, the gray and muffling pall of depression. Sometimes it is mercifully absent from my inner horizon for days or weeks; other times it is hovers, vaguely threatening, in my peripheral vision.

I’ve tried fighting back: asserting, in the face of crippling self-doubt, that I have so much evidence of my own accomplishments that the shadow is absurd. Unfortunately, the positive-thinking route does not work. It has been more effective to accept the reality of the feeling while intellectually recognizing that it is based on a lie, a distortion of reality. Better yet has been to also offer up my sadness to the Lord in prayer, and turn my thoughts deliberately toward gratitude for all the good things in my life, which are many – to be grateful, even if I don’t feel happy.

Today, I was ambushed by the shadow. As I came home from work, it fell without warning across my inner vision, and all went gray. What if my writing is not as good as I think it is? What if my colleagues don’t really respect me? What if my self-image as a good teacher is just that, an image, and the reality is that I don’t help my students as much as I think I do?

Interwoven with this self-doubt was anger at my own self-pity. What have I got to be depressed about? Even just a few days ago, I had been reflecting with cheerful gratitude on all the good things in my life. I hated my own weakness, yet I knew that I could not argue myself out of this mood. Whether or not the feelings were justified, I felt like I was a failure. And the feeling impeded my work – just as the Enemy intended, I imagine.

I felt ill and tired. I wanted to work, but knew from experience that I would not be productive. I decided to take a nap instead. I took a couple of Advil and crawled into bed. My mind wanted to fret over these self-doubts, pull them to pieces, but I resisted, and instead prayed: Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord have mercy... Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord have mercy...

I drifted off into an odd half-sleeping, half-waking state. Not for long, really. But then I woke all the way up – totally awake – with an insight as clear in my mind as if it were a physical object placed in my hands.

It is not necessary for me to be a success – in anything.

I can be a failure.

Failure does not – cannot! – alter the fundamental reality of my life, which is that I am a child of God. I am an adopted sister of the Son, a beloved daughter of the Father, a temple of the Holy Spirit.

I want to do good work, and it is right that I do my best, honoring God in the use of His gifts – but after that, the results are not in my hands, and are not my concern. The good that I do, might be so hidden from me that I never see it.

Or, in truth, I might never accomplish anything of great worth. I might never have someone to particularly love me. I might never fulfill my hopes of building up my ministry and my work – it might go nowhere, and be forgotten or ignored.

I knew in theory that Christ’s love is unconditional, but I had not fully grasped what that meant. I could think about God loving me in spite of my failures... when those failures were in things I didn’t care all that much about, or if I failed in some areas but could offset them with successes elsewhere.

But what about failure in the things that matter deeply to me? What about failure in all that I desire, all that I hope?

I know, I know – it’s unlikely that I would fail so utterly. I mean, look at all the good things in my life already, right? But the Enemy knows how to play on the “what-ifs,” so let me look it right in the eye: I might turn out to be a failure in all that I do. What then?

Accepting that I might fail doesn’t mean that I don’t care – not at all. But it means that I am free.

If it is all right for me to fail, what can the Enemy hold over me? I can be forgotten, despised, and rejected, but so was Our Lord. Nothing that I feel is unknown to him; and none of my failures can separate me from him.

If I can fail today when I am strong and working in the world, then I need have no fear of the day when I am weak – when I cannot teach, or write, or serve others, but can only be served by others. I will still be who I am, a beloved child of God.

If the world’s judgment of my work does not enter into my relationship with the living God, then I am free to do the work that I am called to do, unselfconsciously.

If I can truly rest in my identity as a child of God, then I do not need to define myself by anything else. I can give thanks for the good things that come to me, and I can rejoice when the Lord allows me to see, at least partly, the fruits of my labor. I am free to be grateful, without fear and without the need to cling to these good things in case the darkness comes again.

For now, this moment, the shadow is gone as if it were never there. Thanks be to God! It might come back – it always has, before – but with God’s help I can look straight at it and not turn away. I think I fear it a little less today than before. May God help me to remember who I am.


Hello Holly,
I m Deaf. My english written is not wondeful as my primary language, American Sign Language. I sure you will understand mine. I m moving by your blog. So, my wife is in depression too. I often see she is struggle. She often she feel failure. I encourage her in positive way and walk with her through the trail. So, I think you are much productive in your life, because you went to the college. You are in post graduation. You have a wonderful job. You have a place for living. You are eager for Lord Jesus Christ. Dont forget that there are some wonderful opportunities coming to your life future. Also, I will plan to read your book which talking about your life.

Jesus bless you

I'm thankful for the time you take to pen your words. my relationship with god is so much deeper.. richer.. authentic.. as i seek to understand who i am in christ. god's blessing to you!

Your article has touched me deeply today! You have written much of what I also regularly face. For years I've often kept this struggle at bay. Because God had given me ability and passion and a job that allowed me to use both, to work and serve along side people I've come to love, I have dreaded the inevitable. I knew one day I would have to step back from those relationships, interactions, and passions. I also have multiple debilitating illnesses that play into this and it has become clear that I can not continue in the same capacity as I had before. I can continue to question why, but ultimately I come back to this... As difficult as this change is, I still trust that Christ alone is in control of my life and I find comfort in His Word. I know God will continue to guide, teach, grow, fill, and use me as he sees fit. Life will just look a bit different in the days ahead and I am blessed because of Christ's mercy and grace!
Thank you for sharing this article!

thank you so very much for putting into words what i have been unable to. others cannot understand what happens to me when the darkness overwhelms me. i make CERTAIN to take my Happy Pill, but even that doesn't help sometimes. if only i KNEW HOW to work relationships, how to BE friendly and open and caring........ it has been to scary, and still is. i aspire to be more than i am, but fail miserably. now i have words to ponder when i feal like such a failure, or when i am "certain" failure is coming. thank you for writing these words. i don't know if you meant them as encouragement or not they have encouraged _me_.

thank you for your article. i have felt this way of and on for awhile. i thought i was failing God when i felt this way,but now i now that God loves me just the same when i fail as when i triumph. God bless in all you do.

Reading your description of depression revealed to me, without any doubt, that you have suffered the same strange disorder as have I. And realizing the freedom of accepting failure has been helpful when I've struggled through the episodes, though only minimally. Even when such a realization comes to a person's heart, it does not necessarily mean the episode of depression is suddenly over. The strangeness of having nothing to be unhappy about, yet FEELING unhappy, of having nothing to be depressed about, yet FEELING horribly gloomy and close to doomed has made me wonder about the person who suffers from vertigo. This person could say, "the room seems to be spinning" and the doctor, or friends, or a Christian counselor might say back to them, "but the room is NOT spinning," and "you must preach the TRUTH to yourself". All the information given to the sufferer of vertigo about the truth that the room is not spinning does not take away from the sufferer the SENSATION that the room is spinning. Until the episode of vertigo is over,whether by medical treatment or by nothing anyone knows for sure (all by God's mercy), the feeling that the room is spinning won't be gone. For someone suffering from depression, knowing the truth and believing it does not take away the feelings of failure, doom, gloom, shadow, darkness, deep mournful sadness, or self-loathing. The depressed person's mind will try to make sense of those feelings by searching for reasons for them. Her Enemy will take advantage of the spiritual dizziness by whispering accusations to explain how deserving she is of such feelings. (I know you know the misery.)

I am not currently depressed, but I have had so many very long episodes of depression in my life. When each one ends I pray I'll never have another one or that if I do, that God will keep me faithful through it, that I will seek His glory in it. And I praise Him, thanking Him for the lifting of the shadow, for the absence of the misery only those who have had depression can understand. Over time I've grown closer to being able to thank Him for those times of misery. I'm not there yet, but I am convinced He is able to strengthen and grow me to that point and beyond, by the power of His resurrection.

Thanks for your writing, and if you read this, thanks for "listening".

A sister in Christ

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Dr. Holly Ordway is a professor of composition and literature. She speaks and writes regularly on literature, especially fantasy literature and poetry, and literary apologetics.