Covid-19 Update 33 – Fear of Failure

And God said: I will be with you.

Exodus 3:12

Today’s blog is written by Debbie, our Programmes and Partnerships Manager.

Recently my church, Greyfriars in Reading, held an online question time with Rev. Will Van Der Hart, of the ‘Mind and Soul Foundation’ https://mindandsoulfoundation.org/ to encourage us to take care of our emotional health during this time of lockdown. This led me to explore the foundation’s resources on the topic of ‘fear of failure’. Sometimes feelings of ‘not belonging’ can lead to the fear of making a mistake, of saying the wrong thing, of being misunderstood and of being rejected.

Never knowing quite where I belonged has always been a challenge. Born in the UK and then growing up in Peru, I lived in many homes and attended many schools. As an adult I straddled both cultures for many years working and bringing up a family cross-culturally. I have been delighted, as part of a team, to use my cross-cultural experience to work with our Rope partners, to grow their capacity and the impact of their programmes as they serve vulnerable and oppressed communities. Although I love the work, at times the challenges can leave me feeling inadequate.

In Exodus 3:12 God was speaking to Moses. Moses, born a Hebrew, adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter to become an Egyptian Prince, was now living in exile as a pastoralist in Midian. God asks him to return to Egypt and speak to Pharaoh about liberating the Hebrew people who were oppressed in Egypt.

What an exciting opportunity! Moses’ life experience had prepared him well for the task. Yet he focused on his lack of presentation skills! Moses is quite insistent with God about his lack of qualifications. He says: ‘Lord, please send someone else!’

It is very likely that Moses’ upbringing led to those feelings of insecurity. He was neither part of his own people the Hebrews, nor truly an Egyptian and now he was living in yet a third culture.

There are many reasons why we may feel we ‘don’t belong’ and may struggle with fear of failure. Our insecurity and shame are often buried deep within us. We may not even realise how deeply we fear failure and how we protect ourselves from being ashamed. We use different strategies to try and protect ourselves, we may become perfectionists, or anxious and avoid taking on new opportunities.

Will Van Der Hart tells the story [1] of how, on an occasion when he was struggling with feelings of inadequacy, he was reminded of the story of Moses and how it speaks to dealing with our inner fear and shame. God asked Moses to throw his staff on the ground. The staff became a snake. God then asked Moses to pick it up by the tail, a very risky thing to do! When he did it turned back into a staff. The snake can represent our slippery, fearful inner shame. God may be asking us to face the fear that is stopping us from being secure in God’s calling. As we face our shame, pick it up by the tail, it can become the new staff that allows us to confidently take on whatever God is calling us to do.

Snakes are not something we could handle without some training and we may need some help to explore the issues we each face. The ‘Mind and Soul’ resources along with talking with trustworthy friends have been helping me. I have found that grasping the snake has meant taking responsibility for where I have failed and discovering that this does not lead to the humiliation or rejection I expect. I can see that this new vulnerability is also helping me to move forward in the work God has given me to do, allowing the ‘snake’ of shame  to be changed by God into a ‘staff’ of security and confidence.

[1] The Power of Belonging: Discovering the Confidence to Lead with Vulnerability by Will Van Der Hart and Dr Rob Waller (Author)

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