By Kelli Trujillo
I’d escaped the chaotic life at home with three young children and holed myself away in a study carrel at the library to write. Finally some much-needed peace and quiet. Until a little boy, who’d accompanied his mother to the cookbook section nearby, began to loudly sing and chatter. I tried to ignore him, but it didn’t work. I tried plugging my ears, but I could still hear him.
I came here to get away from children! I thought to myself as my irritation started to climb. I began to cast annoyed glances toward the mother who was happily perusing cookbooks, but she didn’t see me. As this went on (for what seemed like ages but was probably only twenty minutes) my insides transformed from mildly-irritated to fuming, grumbling, bitter, judgmental, angry. . .
Well, you get the idea.
I stared at my computer screen in a fury of frustration that soon transformed into a powerful sense of conviction. The sick irony of it all is that I was there at the library to work on my book about cultivating virtuous character.
Have you ever had a similar moment? When you’re blind-sided by the reality that even despite your best-intentioned spiritual efforts, you instead seem to flounder, fall, and fail in that very area you’re focusing on?
This irony of spiritual growth isn’t new.
Amma Theodora, a fourth-century Egyptian Christian and spiritual mentor, observed, “It is good to live in peace . . . however you should realize that as soon as you intend to live in peace, at once evil comes and weighs down your soul through depression, faintheartedness, and evil thoughts.”
I find a strange comfort in Amma Theodora’s words because as a spiritual leader and mentor, her teaching was authentic and profoundly human. This is, in fact, a reality of the Christian life: we aim to grow, we rely on the Holy Spirit, and often we still mess up royally along the way. Rather than attributing this pattern to some spiritual weakness, we can instead anticipate these failures and even be thankful for them. Why? Because they poignantly remind us, over and over, that no matter how far along we are in our spiritual journey, we are always in desperate need of God. “[A]ll our falls are useful,” wrote Francois Fenelon, “if they strip us of a disastrous confidence in ourselves . . . God never makes us sensible of our weakness except to give us of His strength.”
If our spiritual failures cause us to lick our wounds, lure us into apathy or let our sin spiral out of control, then they’re worse than useless. But if we allow God to use our failures to drive out self-reliance and pride and draw us into deeper reliance upon God, then they’re useful. Perhaps they’re even a necessary part of the spiritual growth journey.
So what about you? What failure, flops, or floundering have you been struggling with lately? How might God by using that fall for his purposes?
Kelli B. Trujillo is the author of Faith-Filled Moments and The Busy Mom's Guide to Spiritual Survival. As a freelance editor and writer, her work has been featured in over 80 Christian publications. Kelli lives in Indianapolis with her three kids and her husband David. You can join Kelli in conversation about spiritual formation at www.kellitrujillo.com/blog.