What if I Mess Up?

HOPE Point @Wesley Memorial UMC
May 14, 2017

Exodus 3-4 (selected passages)
7Then the Lord said, “I’ve clearly seen my people oppressed in Egypt. I’ve heard their cry of injustice because of their slave masters. I know about their pain. 8I’ve come down to rescue them from the Egyptians in order to take them out of that land and bring them to a good and broad land, a land that’s full of milk and honey, a place where the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites all live. 9Now the Israelites’ cries of injustice have reached me. I’ve seen just how much the Egyptians have oppressed them. 10So get going. I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
11But Moses said to God, “Who am I to go to Pharaoh and to bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
12God said, “I’ll be with you.”…
13But Moses said to God, “If I now come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they are going to ask me, ‘What’s this God’s name?’ What am I supposed to say to them?”
14God said to Moses, “I Am Who I Am. So say to the Israelites, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’”…
Then Moses replied, “But what if they don’t believe me or pay attention to me? They might say to me, ‘The Lord didn’t appear to you!’”
2The Lord said to him, “What’s that in your hand?”
Moses replied, “A shepherd’s rod.”
3The Lord said, “Throw it down on the ground.” So Moses threw it on the ground, and it turned into a snake. Moses jumped back from it. 4Then the Lord said to Moses, “Reach out and grab the snake by the tail.” So Moses reached out and grabbed it, and it turned back into a rod in his hand. 5“Do this so that they will believe that the Lord, the God of their ancestors, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God has in fact appeared to you.”…
10But Moses said to the Lord, “My Lord, I’ve never been able to speak well, not yesterday, not the day before, and certainly not now since you’ve been talking to your servant. I have a slow mouth and a thick tongue.”
11 Then the Lord said to him, “Who gives people the ability to speak? Who’s responsible for making them unable to speak or hard of hearing, sighted or blind? Isn’t it I, the Lord? 12 Now go! I’ll help you speak, and I’ll teach you what you should say.”
13 But Moses said, “Please, my Lord, just send someone else.”

With today being Mother’s Day, I want to share with you one of my stories about being afraid of messing up or failing. Before Owen was born, I would occasionally hear parents comment about their feelings of insecurity surrounding the responsibility of raising a totally dependent child. You’ve probably heard such comments before as well. It usually goes something like this, “It’s just so scary knowing that this baby, this child, is totally dependent on me, and…what if I do something wrong? What if I mess it up?” Now, I always thought that seemed a little overdramatic, though it’s probably really not overstated at all. And I’m actually thankful that this is not a concern that has plagued me in Owen’s two years of life. But I have to admit to you that the same thought does cross my mind from time to time. At this point in his life, so much of Owen’s well-being depends entirely on me and Ken, and us, doing all the things that parents are supposed to do to raise happy and healthy kids. Of course, someone jokingly commented to me not to long ago that based on all the latest recommendations and requirements related to raising kids, it’s really amazing any of us survived our childhoods.

Then, of course, the rather humorous irony of all this is that we get past our childhoods only to be confronted with our own fears about failing or messing up. And our fear of failure really grows out of a fear of many different things; like a fear of being embarrassed, or a fear of hurting ourselves or someone else, or a fear of disappointing someone, or fear of inadequacy. To some degree, this is all connected to our body’s “fight or flight” response, where we choose “flight” (so to speak), rather than risk embarrassment or disappointment. So, just as our “fight or flight” response helps protect our physical health, it also helps protect our ego. When it comes to our fear of failure, that ego really plays a key role.

In fact, it’s probably our egos more than anything that keep us from doing certain things. For example, I’m mortified at the thought of dancing in public because I’m afraid I will make a complete fool of myself. On the other hand, I can stand here or in front of a crowd of just about any size and talk without any jitters whatsoever. Of course, there are many who have a fear of public speaking. There might be a time in our lives when we are afraid to try something new like ice skating or skiing because we are worried that we will fall on our faces and embarrass ourselves in front of dozens of people. Or maybe we don’t get into sports, or music, or theater because somewhere along the way we got the message that we weren’t very athletic, or musical, or otherwise talented.

Mary Ellen played on her school basketball team this year. And about midway through the season, the coach called on her to play a position which was not her primary position. Mary Ellen froze. She psyched herself out about it so much she couldn’t even bring herself to get off the bench. She did eventually play in that game, but it was for less than a minute in her usual position. At the end of the game, the coach told Ken that if Mary Ellen had gone in to play the other position, she would’ve played almost the whole game. When we talked to Mary Ellen about why she didn’t want to go in and play, her response was that she was afraid that she would mess up and the coach would yell at her. That’s just one example of the kind of thing that happens to all of us from time to time.

Just look at Moses in the reading we heard from Exodus a few moments ago. Here’s this guy, born a Jew, but raised in Pharaoh’s household. When he saw his own people being oppressed by the Egyptians, he fled to Midian and took on the unassuming life of a shepherd…until God appeared with a mission. You all know the story, God wants Moses to return to Egypt and free the Israelites. But as you heard, Moses is mortified at the thought. And Moses tries nearly every excuse in the book and then some. Moses begins by saying he’s unworthy, then that no one will believe that God has sent him, then that he is not a good speaker. But God offers assurance to Moses with each excuse, and finally, Moses pleads with God to “just send someone else!”

Have you ever been there? So afraid of failure that you’d rather not try than mess up? This is such a common fear, isn’t it? And we actually talk about it a lot. We all grew up hearing that great cliché, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” That one sentence is probably how most of us got through learning how to swim, or ride a bike, or perform. Then there’s that word of wisdom from the great hockey player Wayne Gretzky who once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people speak of their regret at not trying something because their fear got the best of them. Most recently, someone summarized that sentiment with this statement, “I have no regrets about the things I have done, only the things I haven’t done.” And that’s the thing about a fear of messing up. There are risks and rewards that have to be weighed, but there also has to be a recognition that sometimes our fears are going to be realized and we are going to fail. Still, failure, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, we can learn even from our failures. That’s another lesson we’ve been learning since childhood.

There’s no way of knowing if Moses had learned any such lessons in his formative years that were ringing in his mind as God called him to go and deliver the Israelites. Even if he had, it’s obvious from his back and forth with God that in Moses’ mind the fear of this call was overbearing. “Please God, just send someone else.”

Just imagine if that was the overriding thought we had every time we were faced with our fears about messing up. We would miss out on so many opportunities, and so much potential would go untapped! I’d imagine most of you are familiar with Michael Jordan. He has long been considered the greatest basketball player of all time. There’s an old Nike commercial that Jordan did back in the 90s, and I want to share it with you this morning. Listen to what Jordan is saying. [Play video.]

So here is this guy, he won six NBA Championships, five times he was the league MVP, an All-Star fourteen times, and so on. His list of achievements is significant. And yet, he messed up. He missed over 9,000 shots. He lost over 300 games. But did you hear what he said at the end, “I’ve failed over and over and over again. It’s why I succeed.” What would’ve happened if that first time Michael Jordan was trusted with the game winning shot and missed it, he had decided to quit? What if Moses had outright refused God’s call because of his fears? What if we let our fears and failures get the best of us?

I don’t think any of us want to miss out on the great blessings of life, and the truth is that some of the greatest blessings come when we push past our fear of failure and take the risk of trying something new or different. So, how do we deal with our fear of messing up? The first key is to recognize, as I mentioned earlier, that we are going to mess up sometimes; we will be embarrassed, or hurt, or disappointed. But the thing is, it’s never quite as painful as we imagine it will be, and the real tragedy is in not trying. Michael Jordan messed up thousands of times, but he’s still known as the greatest basketball player of all time. And despite all his fears and excuses, Moses was able to accomplish exactly what God called him to do, delivering his people out of slavery in Egypt, which leads into the second thing we need to know about facing our fear of failure.

As Paul said in his first letter to Timothy, the passage we heard earlier in the service, “God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled.” Not only does God give us this spirit of great faith, but God is also with us all the time. God was with Moses every step of the way as he faced Pharaoh, freed his people, and then wandered in the wilderness. And even though Moses didn’t lead the people into the Promised Land, when Joshua stood prepared to do just that, God’s promise to Joshua was that he would be with him, just as God had been with Moses. And God will be with us, too. We have to take that leap of faith and trust God’s presence with us. In all reality, risk and faith go hand-in-hand; the greater your faith, the greater your tolerance for taking chances in the face of failure. If fear reigns in our lives, then we will miss out on some of life’s greatest blessings. The most meaningful parts of life require risk-taking and a faith that God is with us.

So, don’t be afraid. Take the risks God is calling you to take. You might mess up, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing because no matter what happens, God is with you and God wants to bless you.0

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