I read the other day that a step backward after a step forward is not a disaster; it’s more like a cha-cha. I kind of love that, not that I have any ability to do the actual cha-cha, or dance in general. No really, I broke my foot last year trying to dance. It’s not safe.
Have you ever started making progress towards something -- a goal, breaking a bad habit, reaching a dream -- only to slip backwards? Two steps forward, one step back style?
You nominate yourself for that promotion at work, put in the extra hours and effort, are told you’re a shoe-in, only to find out that someone else to got it.
You gave up alcohol for good, but then St Patrick’s Day came around. And then a friend's wedding. And Saturday brunch with mimosas. And then a Wednesday. And before you know it, you’ve fallen back into some scary, Bridget Jones style patterns.
You were three kilograms away from your goal weight after six months of sweat and spin classes, but then Christmas.
You decided to stop that toxic relationship; perhaps you even blocked his number or unfollowed her Instagram. But just as you were getting your life back on track, you reconnected somehow and, well, old habits die-hard.
… And it all just leaves you with that heavy, gut-wrenching feeling of failure.
Perhaps failure has gone from a feeling you have, to a label you have put on yourself.
I’ve been there. I know the disappointment and frustration that comes with those steps back. I know how it can make you want to give up altogether.
The truth is, sometimes progress doesn’t look like progress.
It took me three years to break a habit of drinking Diet Coke. I was drinking nearly two litres daily, and as hard as I tried, giving up felt impossible. I must’ve “given up” over 50 times. One day I decided to set smaller goals, probably the same thought pattern as when I write a to-do list and begin it with ‘write a to do list,’ just so I can cross it off. Don’t pretend you haven’t done that.
I started achieving those goals, like drinking water in between and switching to sparkling water. Finally one day, with very little drama, the addiction just kind of broke. Sometimes progress doesn’t look like progress, until it’s progressed.
The truth is, sometimes progress feels a lot like heartbreak.
One time I decided to end a relationship that was bad for me, and then I kind of didn’t, for about three months. (Break up fails 101). There’ve been times I have deleted a guy's number, only to search my history on my computer to retrieve it a few days later. iCloud and I at our worst/most genius, thanks Steve Jobs. But as I got honest with myself and a few of my closest girlfriends, even when I cha-cha’d backwards, I got a little more coordinated, a little stronger. After a couple of goes, I remembered what I was worth, and when I couldn’t remember, I was reminded. Sometimes progress feels like heartbreak, but over time, your heart will thank you for it.
The truth is, sometimes progress looks like failure.
I remember in school I ran for school captain (like class president) and I was pretty confident I would get it. Because Murphys are winners, right dad? Well, I totally lost. Sorry dad. What looked like progress suddenly revealed itself as failure. But you know what? Not being captain was the best thing for me, even if I couldn’t see it at the time. I realised what looked like failure, was actually God’s way of saying “I have something better.” And I’m glad I trusted his process to bring the progress.
Failure is a humble thread that weaves my story together, and my guess is, it has woven into your story too. Whether in a sport, in a relationship, at work or in school, a step back isn’t the direction you were hoping for. My guess is you didn’t start this thing so you could fail, unless you were hoping to go viral on YouTube with #epicfails. But my other guess is you are much clever-er (totally a word) than that.
Failing doesn’t make you a failure. Take that label off yourself today.
A step back is just what happens sometimes. Failure is part of our journey. Because this is life. And we are flawed. And we live in a broken world. And we make mistakes. But that’s why we are so desperately in need of a Savior. And that’s why He came and He died and He is constantly rewriting our story and shaping it into something so beautiful.
As long as you are facing forward, even if you have taken a little step back, you’re still in the right position for progress. And hey, if we aren’t failing every now and then, then maybe we aren’t making the kind of progress that results in forward movement either.
So, little one. Face forward. Chin up. Smile. The music has started. It’s time to move.