The things I thought were failures in my life were actually my best opportunities to grow—and God didn’t love me any less for them.
We all have those moments when something we have heard our entire lives finally clicks, really sinking into our minds and hearts. I had that experience earlier this year when I listened to Kevin J Worthen, president of BYU, give his devotional address “Successfully Failing: Pursuing Our Quest for Perfection,” and it has changed the course of my life.
At an early age, I developed an inexplicable inner drive that constantly pushed me toward accomplishment. I worked hard in school and was diligent in every aspect of the gospel. I strove to do everything I thought was expected of me.
My inner drive, though, came at a cost. I was often stressed, tired, and discontented. My self-worth was dependent on a shaky foundation, one that could fall apart at any second. I was slowly wearing myself thin. I was unconsciously pushing God away by thinking that I had to do so much on my own.
And then, in the fall of my junior year at college, it all started to unravel. The catalyst: my hopeless realization that only a miracle would save me from getting the worst grade I’d ever received. As I faced that kind of blow, my shaky foundation crumbled—just like that. I came home one day and just collapsed, sobbing.
Even as I tried making plans for how to cram in more study time, in the back of my mind was the sinking realization that though I could physically still make a good grade, I didn’t know what it would cost me. For the first time, I was seeing the magnitude of what I was doing to myself.
But how could I let myself just . . . fail? Failure was a dark chasm that I didn’t know how to cross. I didn’t know if I could fail. Who would I be without my successes? Would I be able to make it? The unknown of true failure was terrifying.
But it was an unknown I had to face, and to do it, I had to rebuild myself with God’s help. That’s what it felt like, at first. I had hit ground zero, had finally seen what forces had gotten me there . . . and he had to help me let it go.
Heavenly Father was there every step of the way. Though I didn’t get immediate assurance and relief from him, I now see ways he was helping me make myself anew.
One of the most defining moments in my rebuilding experience came when I attended a BYU devotional in January. I was shocked to hear President Worthen—a man I was coming to admire and who seemed to exemplify success—say, “My remarks today focus on one reality about that quest for perfection. It is a truth that is hard to deny, yet difficult to accept. It is this: We will all fail. More than once. Every day.” President Worthen explained that failure is not just a normal part of our lives but also a necessary part.
During his devotional, I finally began to understand aspects of the gospel such as grace, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and the unconditional love of God that I had known only theoretically before. I began to let myself feel peace and love from Heavenly Father like I hadn’t felt it in a long, long time.
I used to feel such guilt that my mistakes were causing the Savior to suffer, thinking that he must blame me somehow for every single one. I thought that in order to be worthy of his love, I couldn’t fail. Now I know that is the blackest lie I ever could have told myself. His perfect love and perfect forgiveness were always there, reaching out to me, simply waiting for me to grasp onto it—the truest lifeline and the surest foundation.
I have come to know, in my very soul, that the only times we have truly failed our Father in Heaven are when we give up on ourselves and on him. “So,” as President Worthen said, “whatever you do, don’t you dare give up.”
I, Leah Welker, have failed many times through my life, and I will fail many times more. And now I’m glad to know it—so very, very glad.
Read or watch President Kevin J Worthen’s BYU devotional address, “Successfully Failing: Pursuing Our Quest for Perfection.”
Source: BYU Speeches
—Leah Welker, Mormon Insights
Find more insights
Read or watch Brad Wilcox’s BYU devotional address, “His Grace Is Sufficient,” which helped me understand the concept of grace during this time.
Read Elder Dale G. Renlund’s April 2015 general conference talk, “Latter-day Saints Keep on Trying,” which also helped me realize that we only truly fail when we give up.
Read the Mormon Insights article that highlights President Worthen’s devotional, “Failing on the Path to Perfection.”
It’s hard to learn to be ok enough with failure to forgive ourselves and move forward, especially the more spectacular ones. I think that makes the gospel that much more meaningful though. If failure wasn’t painful, we wouldn’t appreciate our Savior nearly as much. The pain of failure is part of what makes the joy of redemption so sweet.