Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve heard from two different men, “You failed me.”
Neither one of them used those precise words, but what each did say was clear. They both had unmet expectations of my leadership and me, and they felt like I had let them down.
And in many ways, I had.
I own that reality.
Without a doubt, in over 40 years of leading, I’ve made many mistakes. Fact is, my leadership blunders, oversights and missteps are common and have led to lots of frustrating moments for others (and me).
I’ve said it a thousand times: Unmet expectations are the source of most conflict. When someone—anyone—doesn’t do what you think they should do or does something you didn’t expect, the natural response is disappointment leading to struggle.
I am more aware of this painful truth than you can imagine.
The two guys I mentioned matter to me a great deal. One I have viewed as a brother and the other as a son. And it kills me to know that I have let them down. For days now, I’ve gone through a range of emotions from hurt to frustration to anger to depression. It hasn’t been pretty (ask my dear wife).
It took me awhile, but I finally got on my face and prayed.
“God, what’s wrong with me? Why does it seem like the one thing I’m ‘good’ at is letting others down?”
I even had some empathy for Elijah, who once prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors” (1 Kings 19:4).
Relax. I’m not suicidal. No need to call 911 for me. But I did pray, “Lord, I’m good with going home anytime now.”
Elijah had just come off an incredible victory. God had used him to defeat 450 false prophets on Mount Carmel. (You can read about it here.) However, when threatened by Jezebel, Elijah became afraid and ran for his life. He went from ecstasy to agony and then ran off alone to be in the wilderness where he prayed, “Just kill me, God. I’d rather die at your hands than at the hands of anyone else” (my paraphrase).
Elijah was overcome by emotions. He lost sight of the bigger picture. Now, alone, discouraged and feeling like a failure, he wanted to take the easy route. He wanted to quit.
What I love about our God is that even when He finds us in the wilderness hiding, He meets us there—right there—in the midst of our pain. And then He speaks, “Get up. Stay the course. No easy route to heaven for you! I’m not done with you yet.” (Read about Elijah’s encounter with an angel and then the Lord here.)
So, early this morning, I’m sitting in the dark, staring out the window, praying (more like complaining to God about my recurring idiocy as a leader), and the Holy Spirit whispers to my soul:
When you fail someone, in whatever way you do, that does not mean you are a failure; it means you are human.
That word wrecked me in a very good way. It was the Lord reminding me, “Get up. Stay the course. I’m not done with you yet.”
I’m literally weeping even now as I realize…
But in God’s eyes, I am not a failure.
I am His.
I am called.
I still have a job to do.
He’s not done with me, yet.
That, my friends, is epic grace.