“Mom?” I heard my daughter’s voice slide weakly under the bathroom door. “Mom, I got a failing grade on my test.”
Her words quivered in the air.
“Wow, what happened?” I wrapped myself in a towel and opened the door. Rivers were running down her cheeks.
“I don’t know! I thought I understood the book, but then the test had all these questions that were confusing, and I didn’t know what they were asking and…” The words tumbled out with her tears.
We stood in the hallway dripping.
“It’s okay,” I said. “It’s just one test.”
“No, Mom! It wasn’t just one test. It was a really big test!” My conscientious first-born looked at the ground and wrapped her arms tighter to herself. “I don’t know what happened.”
All she could see of herself in that moment was her failure. She saw a kid who had successfully knocked her grade down a full letter in just one shot. She saw someone who hadn’t studied well enough, who didn’t read carefully, and who made the wrong choices when it mattered.
She couldn’t see everything else that she is.
All she could see was her lack.
I saw my own reflection in her teary eyes. How often I evaluate myself on my failures and measure myself by my shortcomings! All day long, I collect little infractions and big sins. When the darkness sweeps over me at night and I’m left alone with my thoughts, I lay them all out on the table one by one to see just how bad of a wife and mother I really am.
I lost my patience.
I used “that tone” again.
I put off the project my husband asked me to do.
I made my daughter feel bad about her math mistakes.
I spent too much time on my computer.
I didn’t do the Bible reading with the kids.
It all stacks up to a big, fat failing grade. I wonder why I haven’t been able to do better even though I have tried and tried and tried. How could God love this stumbling, tripping child who can’t seem to go through a day without scraping her knees?
But I look at my daughter struggling with her failure, and I long to embrace her and show her who she really is to me.
She is so much more than a grade on a test.
She is my treasure, my beloved child. Nothing she could ever do or not do could make me love her any less or any more. She already has all of me.
And suddenly, I know just how my heavenly Father feels about me when I fail. He stands in the hallway with me as I bumble on about my collection of infractions, and I know he longs to scoop me up and say, “Tough day, huh kiddo?”
“Do you know something?”
“You are my treasured possession, the very one I have chosen especially for this.”
I want to argue with God and tell him that he didn’t pick very well, that he should have chosen someone with a little more going on, someone who messes up a lot less, someone who doesn’t need all the grace she takes.
“Look at what I did today,” I manage to mumble.
“I didn’t choose you because of what you could do; I chose you because of what Jesus did.”
I look to the ground and nod. It’s the best thing to do when God is right but you’re not quite ready admit it.
“Can I ask you something?” God says.
“Do you think there’s anything you can do that will undo Jesus?”
The question stops me cold. I’m sure there must be something. It sure feels like it. But that’s just it: all the guilt and self-reproach is just a feeling, nothing more.
I have absolutely nothing in my arsenal of failures that is more powerful than what Christ has done.
“You can’t undo what Jesus has done—you’re not God. Nothing you can ever do wrong or anything you ever do right will ever erase his sacrifice on your behalf. I planned it that way.”
I smile to myself because it is true, and because it is comforting. None of my shortcomings is strong enough to undo Christ’s sacrifice; in fact, the more I fail, the more profoundly his sacrifice cleanses me, adopts me, and defines me.
I am a mother who fails, but I have Jesus. I am a wife who neglects, but I have Jesus. I am a daughter of God who messes up, but I have Jesus.
When God looks at my failing grade, he doesn’t see less of me. He sees more of Jesus.
And for two dripping kids who can’t seem to do better than a failing grade, that is more than enough.