Disclaimer: though the title could be, perhaps, inflammatory — my sweet husband loves this post. It is written with permission ;).
We sat at a local favorite and it was all new to me. I had flown in for a weekend interview and knew nothing of how pregnant this little town was to be with the future of my heart. Conversation was easy and the third person brought in to interview me acted as if he were a rubber stamp.
I wasn’t nervous, but he asked one question of me that I knew I didn’t answer right.
“Describe to me a time you’ve failed. Big.” he said casually, as if I’d be quick to retrieve an answer. Little did this stranger know that I’d patterned my life against failure and twenty-two years wasn’t yet enough time for me to learn you can only keep that up for so long.
I didn’t have an answer for him. I stumbled over my words, trying both to process his question and answer it. Was failure something I needed as a selling point? Could this random guy read that I was hyper-sensitive to doing the wrong thing, at any given time?
I got the job, but never forgot the question that hung ominously over me.
This same weekend, while on a tour of my soon-to-be new city, I met his picture before I met him. Big southern-boy bow tie and a smile to match, worn by the man who would inaugurate me into both failure and love and teach me with his life just how intertwined they were.
We were quite a collision and it took years to sort out. I lived careful, studied. I memorized the rule book and didn’t diverge much from it. Somewhere between those carefree days of pigtails and bicycle-handle-streamers-flying-in-tandem-to catch-up-with-my spit-fire-energy-level and my adult life I’d developed a fear of failing which drove me more than I recognized. When I came to know God, personally, I just fit Him (or what I perceived Him to be) into my already-formed perspective. We all run together against failure, right? Wasn’t this the Christian life — turning up the treadmill more just when you thought you peaked?
Nate, on the other hand, colored outside the lines. He didn’t practice perfection, he just was who he was, and the normal immaturity wrapped up in so many twenty-two year-old’s like himself didn’t seem to bother him, like it did me.
He lived in the moment and I lived anticipating the moment, preparing for the moment and analyzing that moment back there when it was all over.
But as time went on, his immaturity hit those common, God-ordained roadblocks that make a man out of a boy and an alarm sounded within me. I had begun to tolerate small measures of “failure” in him, trying not to stew but not really knowing what to do with the disappointment I felt at who he yet wasn’t.
But when his mess got bigger and others started to see it, I got angry.
The one sliver of beauty in anger (any anger) — if we can see it — is that it reveals the idol around which we’ve bent our life.
My perfect world was disrupted by a man who, many days, served as my reminder of a covenant and promise I never thought I’d actually need to lean into in order to stay. I’d spent years scaling this wall of don’t-ever-screw-up!, only to be attached to someone who didn’t seem terribly irritated by failure. Which was good, because he was getting better at it.
So what do you do when your idols crumble?
You fall in love.
The rule-follower in me kept spinning new ways to clean him up and new ways to climb right out of this hole. Again, it was learned nature: avoid failure at all costs.
But we could only avoid that place of desperation — he in his failings and me in my impotent ability to reach him there — for so long.
His failings were both big and small. And they are his story to tell. But my version goes something like this:
I scrambled throughout most of my adult life subconsciously trying to avoid the chasm that seemed to exist between me and God when I “failed Him.” I had no experiential grid for who He was in my failure because, for much of my life, experience was the grid through which I saw Him. His Word and His whisper didn’t shape me, then. Instead, soundbites from sermons and my own contrived ideas of Him — filtered through my broken experience — left me unable to see who He was when I was anything less than my version of perfect.
So I worked hard not to fail. And there was not much conversation between me and my God.
Until I began to see Strength hiding inside a broken gait.
I saw him scrape his knees, over and over again, tripping over the same pothole. He fell and got back up, fell and got back up. In that same darn spot. I had a covenant, but many might have tired of this. His heart was earnest — it became clearer over time that what lay beneath the surface was beating, heavy — but the inertia of his life was taking its time to align with his intentions. The hinderance that had wrapped itself around his ankles didn’t disappear in a one-time breakthrough, it was cast aside over days that became months that became years of a long and steady walk with eyes on the Man who became His strength.
This bothered me for a long time, the length it took to see healing and freedom in him.
Until I realized that this was glory.
God wasn’t just putting humpty-dumpty back together again, He was initiating me to His love.
And He was revealing Himself, powerfully, in my husband’s life and story.
Where I was impatient, God tenderly applied balm to Nate’s scrapes and bruises (note: from his own falls and failings!). C’mon, little guy, He said. You and me, we’re a team — you bring the failure, but I bring the strength. Where I had eyes on what he was not, God had eyes for who He was, inside of Nate. Where I counted life by days and months, God counted it by years and decades. I saw a few days of a seeming “no” in Nate’s life, yet God marked him by the “yes” residing in his spirit and called that month a win. He spoke tenderly and consistently about what Nate was becoming and I was still stuck on that from which he had come.
Nate had a brush with the Father’s love in his failure — that outward failure I’d so vehemently fought to avoid. He’s been forever marked by that brush.
It’s here that I begin to wonder if this whole story was more about God and me than it was about Nate.
I had cleaned up the outside and, though my sin may not have been as apparently mud-stained as his, my heart needed a true definition of love.
Nate showed me this.
Friends, I missed years in there — a thousand different chances to partner with God’s work in making the boy I married into this man, burned with the understanding of where his strength came from — because I didn’t believe that failure in the life of a man who is willing to repent is the beginning of his real taste of Life. And the beginning of mine.
I held more tightly to my paradigm of life in Him than I did to His Word and His whisper.
What I thought was my downfall in those early years was so beautifully constructed by the Father to make my husband a desperate man. And to make a desperate woman out of me. I voraciously avoided seeming desperate — what would others think? how bad could it get? what might we have to lose? — but desperation is what creates hunger and hunger is what carves out space for God.
And after nearly twelve years of marriage I can say with confidence that a man with skinned knees, desperate only for the strength of His Father, is worth more than even a full year of no failures.
To the wives of these men (or the husbands of these wives … or the mothers and fathers of these children, seemingly “failing”): Your strength is your prayer life because your only strength is Him. Talk to God (instead of trying to save them). Often. Pour out your fears about their brokenness and be ready to receive back from Him His words over this one you love. This season may even be less about them than it is about you. (Assume that it is and I promise tomorrow will look different to you.) That “same darn pothole” was the place where I learned to pray. Pray His Word until it becomes like breathing to you — inhaling Truth will slowly begin to replace any lies you’ve been feeding on in this dark season. Ask God, in private, to give them a repentant heart — repentance is our catalyst for healing — and pray those same words for yourself, as you’re likely seeing your own potholes begin to surface in what seems like a mess.
In the most unlikely of seasons: adore. Look up and let the truth of who He is in His Word replace anything your eyes might physically see. Adoration is a series of baby steps towards living with His unseen as your reality.
Here is our May Adoration guide as a place to start — we’re still early in the month. Jump in!
For Your Continued Pursuit: Luke 7:36 – 50 | Proverbs 24:16 | Psalm 103:12 | 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 | 2 Corinthians 4:1-7 | Hebrews 12:1-2 | Luke 13:3 | 2 Peter 3:9 | Proverbs 28:13 | Joel 2:13
First through fifth photos compliments of Mandie Joy. She also took the chicken-scratch from my moleskine journal and prettied it up as a monthly adoration guide we all can follow! If you’re on instagram, she posts each adoration verse, daily! Sixth photo compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography.
And (a little bit of a gasp here), I just took the plunge and am on twitter (amazing for a girl who can barely shut down her computer on her own!). You can find me here: https://twitter.com/SaraHagerty. Be gracious with this slow adapter ;).