Failing with Grace, Over and Over

keeping faith even when we fall

Our two-and-a-half-year-old son Oscar can’t walk. He can’t talk. He has intractable epilepsy, a slippery demon that rears its head again and again. Often just when we think we finally have it subdued and let ourselves take a deep breath of relief.

Oscar also has days when he is truly inconsolable. When something is bothering him so deeply that nothing in this world can comfort him. He screams with an agony hidden somewhere in his body, one he cannot tell us about or point to. This is not uncommon in kids with severe neurological issues. It simply is.

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The Inevitability of Failure

It’s hard to be his mother on these days, though. I have always considered myself a capable and effective person. Good grades, competitive schools, graduate fellowships, all of which I deliberately walked away from when I chose to commit to the call of full-time motherhood. I expected to succeed at that, too, just by working hard enough.

What Oscar has been teaching me is that sometimes hard work is not enough. Some things actually cannot be fixed. There are days when the medication fails to control his seizures. There are days when my words and songs and soothing embraces fail to keep him from thrashing and screaming for hours.

Facing the Unfixable

One day, a friend dropped by our house to lend us a precious gift, a pilgrim shrine of the Mother Thrice Admirable, Our Lady of Schoenstatt. She brought along the Rosary that had been wrapped around the cross atop the frame.

“When I opened the box with my knife, I accidentally cut the Rosary into pieces. I cut straight through the cord, so that the beads of the opening prayers near the crucifix fell off. There’s not enough string to reattach them,” she explained ruefully.

“I was so disappointed that I had been so careless,” she went on, as she fingered the beads with a wistful gaze. She returned the shrine to its carrying bag. “But the other day, I thought of you when I was looking at it. Some things can’t be fixed. You know what I mean.”

There are days when it seems I have failed before I’ve even begun. Not just days with Oscar, and not just days when something has been irreparably broken by my careless hands…or my careless words. Into every life must fall some situations that are truly unfixable. But they must still be faced with courage and steadfastness.

The Faithful Effort

Today, during the longest doctor’s appointment in the history of the world, I held Oscar while he screamed. I knew that all the holding would be for naught. But I did it anyway, because it needed to be done. This was the task that God had set before me in that moment. It was an impossible, undoable task. A task at which I knew in advance I would fail. But it was a task that required faithful effort nonetheless.

Here’s the truth of the matter: the faithful effort is the task.

I also know in advance that I will fail at perfecting my soul while I breathe on this earth. I know in advance that I will fail to protect all my children from every danger in their lives. I know in advance that I will fail to love my husband with the unconditional love he so richly deserves.

The faithful effort is in not quitting, even when it feels like you’re spinning your wheels. It is in not berating yourself for getting it wrong, even for getting it wrong over and over again.

A Steadfast Spirit

A clean heart create for me, God; renew within me a steadfast spirit. -Psalm 51:12

Faithful effort requires a steadfast spirit. The willingness to get up and try again, knowing in advance that the effort will be in vain—that we will fail—requires a particular and very deep kind of trust. God’s grace is the only source of that trust, both the soil from which it springs and its very roots, knotted tight to that firm ground.

This is a different kind of task from the more common ideal of detaching ourselves from the outcome of our efforts. This is not working hard when you don’t know what the outcome will be. Working hard when you do know what the outcome will be—when your work will be futile but you are asked to do it anyway—is stepping out in a different kind of trust and faith.

Imagine the Blessed Mother as she watched her Son walk the way of the Cross in front of her, knowing the outcome could not be fixed or stopped or averted. She walked with Him anyway. She did not look away. She did not step aside.

Failing and Our Father

Sometimes I think God gives a few of us particularly stubborn, effective, and prideful souls these Sisyphean, unfinishable tasks, because He knows there is no other way that we will finally stop and take notice that there are things we cannot do alone. That we need Him to complete even the smallest details of our lives.

That He loves us even when we fail.

I call this kind of guaranteed failure failing with grace. Failing while you float serenely in the knowledge that God’s grace surrounds and carries you down, down, down, until you have reached the very bottom of your strength and the utter end of your will… and the beginning of His.

Are you in a season where you feel like you’re failing over and over again? How is God showing you that there is grace in the effort?

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Christy Wilkens is a full-time mother, part-time armchair philosopher who lives in Austin, TX but wishes she lived in Lourdes. She is a wife and mom to six kids, all of whom are special (but some are specialer than others). She writes about special needs, faith, doubt, suffering, and good reads. You can find out more about her here.

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  • Reply
    September 4, 2018 at 6:51 am

    Christy, wow….your words struck such an honest cord. One I had never quite considered before, but now seem so obvious. I will be pondering this truth and how God is calling me to fail with grace. Thank you for your witness and may God continue to bless you in your difficult walk!

  • Reply
    LM Hille
    September 6, 2018 at 7:13 pm

    The chord I struck thru reading this was the battle raging with my two sisters and I . No matter what I said or didn’t say, I couldn’t reach them…only made things muddier. So I took time to sit quietly before the Lord and waited for Him to give me the solution……..Nothing. He said, “Just sit with Me”. So, I did, for a couple of hours. Silence. But… there was a change; I was thinking with a clearer view and a calmer head, I was walking with Jesus, and feeling His peace. I realized I may not be the one to solve this conundrum, because I had put the whole matter in His capable hands and the resolution would come in His timing.

  • Reply
    September 7, 2018 at 2:02 pm

    This is a beautiful piece. Thank you for taking the time to share your experience and insights. Yes, God love us even when we fail. He loves us because we fail, too, I think, when we fail while working at the tasks He gives us to do. He loves us then because we are putting for the effort and the work to be faithful to His call; we are responding’ “yes” to Him. He meets us there in our “yes” and gives us the grace (as you said) to help us every day, every minute, to faithfully do the work that He has entrusted to us.

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