At Work

How to Uproot the Fear of Failure—In Christ Alone

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One of the best-known plantation homes of the South, Boone Hall, is not famous for its stately brick construction or elegant column-lined porch.

What makes the home a landmark is the iconic driveway lined with live oak trees.

The branches of the grand trees, originally planted in 1743, meet over the driveway to form a magnificent leafy canopy dripping with Spanish moss. Soft sunlight streaming through leaves at the end of the day makes the scene especially magical.

Of course, what visitors do not see is the massive system of roots tangled beneath the ground. These roots have nourished and supported the trees above ground for over 200 years and yet are hidden from sight.

I think there is an important parallel to be drawn between the roots and trees of Boone Hall Plantation and the way the human heart operates.

Fear Is Nourished by Deep Roots

John Kyle has written about the top ten fears employees report experiencing in the workplace. At the top of the list is the fear of failure.

Just like ancient live oaks are fed by gigantic root systems, big fears about failure are nourished by deep roots too.

Our emotions grow out of what we believe to be true about the world and ourselves. In a sense, our beliefs are the roots of our emotional life. So, in order to address the fear of failure, we have to dig below the surface to the roots of our emotions.

Ultimately, fear of failure is a fear of being known for who we truly are—fragile, broken, and sinful humans. Like the man behind the curtain in “The Wizard of Oz,” we all long to be seen as the “Great and Powerful Wizard,” yet we have the looming sense that our unmasking is only a curtain pull away.

Performance becomes a way of assuaging our fears, as we believe adequate presentation of ourselves can prevent facing the reality of our brokenness.

Jesus Is Our Righteousness. But Do We Know It in Our Bones?

This coping mechanism reveals a false belief about ourselves and ultimately about the gospel. As Christians, our performance has never been, nor will it ever be, the source of our acceptance.

Consider these verses from Romans 3:21-25a:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

We know intellectually that this scripture is true—that Jesus is our righteousness—but do we know it deep down in our hearts?

Hesitancy to admit our failures demonstrates that we are still resting in our own righteousness and record. The gospel tells us that there is freedom to live without fear of failure by resting on the perfect record of Jesus:

 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15).

Christ alone can destroy the roots of our fear of failure. Instead of denying or hiding our failings, we are able to fully admit failure and weakness.

Imagine what freedom could flow into your heart if you actually let the finished work of Christ be the final word over your life.

May you rest in his righteousness alone, today and forever.

Editor’s Note: On “Flashback Friday,” we take a look at some of IFWE’s former posts that are worth revisiting. This post was previously published on April 9, 2015.

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  • Barbara

    This is all well and good but I think it might overspiritualize things just a bit? For me and for many, the fear of failure is not so much a fear of being known as fragile, but rather that said failure means I will not be able to provide for physical and financial needs.

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