When Our Failures Define Us

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I love when you talk about your college experience. So many of you tell stories that make it sound like it was really hard to leave that part of your life behind. I love hearing about the classes you took, friends you made, and groups you were a part of.

I have a hard time talking about my college experience and I think a lot of that lands on my last semester. My last semester of college was not ideal. You know how they encourage you to take the most difficult classes early on? Yeah, I didn’t do that. In fact, I had waited way too long to take my last Accounting class and to say I was terrible at accounting is the understatement of the year. I was working several jobs and trying to finish this last class, along with a few other classes that were directly related to my major and essentially a breeze.

Let me tell you about accounting, though. So I took Accounting I and did terrible. I was advised to retake it so that Accounting II wouldn’t be so difficult. The only problem was that I took it with a Russian lady who never showed up and when she did, could not clearly communicate the material. We called it even and she passed all of us in exchange for a decent review. Yay, I got a B. Which became a problem in Accounting II.

I understood nothing. Each test was increasingly more difficult than the one before and all the tutoring in the world wasn’t helping. Plus, it was one of those classes where everything hangs on 3 tests and a project. Projects are my jam though, you know? Like, I just get them and they get me. So I fail the first two tests. It’s almost comical how bad I actually do. Then I start to grasp the material and I think I’m going to be able to pull out a somewhat passing grade on this last test. I do the project. I actually get a 96 on that. You’re welcome, Accounting II. So glad I could teach you about the checks and balances of Walt Disney Co. Then I get the test back. On a regular day, that grade would have been fine. I could get by on that grade on any other class. But not this day.

Guys, I failed the last class that I needed to graduate in my final semester by TWO points.

Can we take a moment of silence for that?

Now, we can talk about how I didn’t study or learn the material all day long, but NOTHING could console me in that moment of finding out that I would indeed not be graduating on time. Two days before Christmas, I leaned over a puzzle with Muppet Christmas Carol in the background and just wept for what felt like eternity. I threw my double stuff oreo at the wall as I finished the last sentence of the email “unfortunately, you will need to retake this class”.

Nothing could cut me as deep as that failure did. I walked in shame for the next year as I ignored the fact that I had not actually graduated. I haven’t even addressed the failing of that class until, well, until I decided to write about it. I danced around it for almost a whole year. I didn’t want anyone to bring it up and I wanted to just pretend like I wasn’t three credits shy of a diploma. After a tough conversation and a small bribe, I begrudgingly took a four hour a day Saturday class through March and April so we could stop ignoring the fact that I had not in fact graduated. I didn’t even walk because I was so ashamed of what I had not been able to accomplish in my ideal time frame. I couldn’t run from my failure and it haunted me that entire year.

When we fail, shame whispers our name and lures us to follow it into the depths of grief and pain. It tells us that we will never be good enough and that our failures can never be redeemed. Shame is such a liar. It makes us walk with a the heaviest baggage and tells us we aren’t strong enough to walk at all. Shame makes us feel like we are not the whole human beings that Jesus makes us into. Shame is the enemy.

I want to tell you that it’s easy to think about that time and that day because it’s over with. I want to tell you that I am so proud that I finished college and can hold a diploma with my name on it. But some days I try to forget the whole experience because I walked in that shame for so long over what I perceived to be my biggest failure.

Shame can cause division. Division between us and others. Division between us and Jesus. We choose to walk alone because we carry around the judgement that may not even be there. Our failures do not have to be divisive. Jesus took our shame with Him on the Cross so we didn’t have to hold on to it our entire lives.

Accounting II does not define me. My diploma (which is sitting beneath a stack of papers holding my spare room together) does not define me. I am a whole human being with or without that grade. But sometimes we let our failures define us for too long and carry their weight until they nearly suffocate us. We can breathe easy, though, knowing that we walk in freedom from our deepest failures and in our weakest moments.

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