What if I fail?
This thought haunted me, to the point where I felt breathless, like I had been kicked in the gut. Having done all I could for my final clinical examinations, I still felt it wasn’t enough.
When my classmates and I met after the exam, we compared notes and realised that we had all arrived at different diagnoses for the same paediatric clinical case study, which was really unsettling for us.
Failing this exam meant I wouldn’t be able to practise as a speech and language therapist—a career I believe God had called me to and confirmed to me during my first job out of university. The two years of hard work I had put into finishing the master’s course would have been for nothing. It would cost me my partial scholarship and conditional job offer back in Singapore, and would potentially put me at a disadvantage in a competitive job market.
The week-long wait for my exam results was the longest week of my life. I did everything—attend campus ministry events, student lunch after church services, and outreach events—to distract myself. I even texted my coursemate in another city, who had taken up running (even though she wasn’t a runner) to distract herself from thinking about the results.
However, there was one day that week where everyone cancelled on meeting me, and I was left all alone to face the reality of my situation. I remember turning off my lights and sobbing quietly, letting my guard down and putting it all before the Lord, including all my rants and questions:
God, would You bring me all the way here just to fail at the last stage and return home empty-handed? What’s the point of having brought me through perhaps one of the most difficult courses on campus just for me to not practise as a speech therapist?
Did I hear You wrongly when You called me here? Did I read all Your confirmation signs wrongly when You had paved the way for me to qualify to come here?
What will I tell my prospective employer back home who had already chosen me, trusting that I will graduate with good results?
Going back to my constant
With my friends far away, parents asleep because of the time difference, and local relatives occupied for the evening, I could only pray on my own. Then I remembered Jesus’s experience in the Garden of Gethsemane. On the night before His death, He was abandoned by His friends who were too sleepy to pray with Him, even after He had shared with them that He was in despair (Matthew 26:36-44, Luke 22:39-44).
Though my own experience was far from death, I too despaired and felt abandoned. But I was not alone. Jesus understood my pain and uncertainty because He bore everything on the cross—all my sins, and with it, all the brokenness, lack, and imperfections, including my regrets and mistakes.
I remember going to sleep that night filled with peace, fully reassured that God remained in control, and that He was always there for me and would always be, no matter if my loved ones were or weren’t.
Over the next few days, meditating on these verses gave me immense comfort until the exam results arrived:
- “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6, ESV).
- “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6, ESV).
After my “Gethsemane evening”, I received replies from my loved ones, and I felt the Lord continue to speak to me through them. I remember my sister’s convicting and passionate words over a phone call: “Ming, you are going to return to Singapore a fully qualified speech and language therapist. Nothing less!” Her words greatly encouraged me.
There was also my good Christian friend who told me that it was all right even if I failed. She knew how difficult my course was and attempted to reassure me that I could somehow manage with a non-clinical degree. I understood her perspective, though I told her that I still felt God was going to work through my efforts and help me be the speech and language therapist He wanted me to be.
This was seven years ago. Today, having received full clinical qualification and practised for a few years as a speech and language therapist, I am humbled by God’s marvellous goodness upon my life, and how He’s enabled me to witness His goodness to my family, my colleagues, and my clients.
What if I did fail?
The night I prayed by myself, I did consider what I would do if I failed the exam and in the worst-case scenario, failed the retake as well. I imagined coming back to Singapore dejected, with “only” a non-clinical postgraduate qualification, and returning to my teaching job in an autism school. Would I be able to eventually find contentment and happiness to be back where I was before?
The answer, I believe, is yes—I did love my teaching job and all my young students, and it was difficult to leave all that to pursue my master’s. I would have taken all that had happened as confirmation that the Lord wanted me back at my teaching job, and then pursued qualifications down that track. Although I would have had very different career and remuneration prospects, I know the Lord would have sustained and provided me with all that I needed.
As I thank the Lord for all He has entrusted to me, I can see that while the challenges over the years have differed—especially the times I worked with more challenging clients, and that period of waiting on the Lord for a life partner—the Lord has always proven Himself good and faithful (2 Timothy 2:13), coming through for me each time to remind me how He is my all in all. Only He can always be there for me every moment I’m in need of encouragement.
Over the years, I have had many “Gethsemane evenings” of crying out to God and learning to accept that having Him alone is more than enough. Truthfully, I don’t deserve the Lord or the salvation He has gifted to me. I can’t say I deserve any of my earthly blessings—not even my desired career or family.
Even as He gave me these desires for career and family, He’s had to refine them over the years so that I would always put Him first and not His blessings; so that I would come to a place where, even if I didn’t receive any of these blessings, I would still believe that He is God and He is enough. He has worked (and is still working) through all my struggles and in all my personal quiet time with Him, to “immunise” my heart against idolatry of anything, including His blessings, so that I would not lose sight of eternity and His greater purpose for my life.
As an encouragement to myself and anyone reading this, I’ve written this prayer based on Job 42:1, Romans 12:2, and 2 Corinthians 9:8:
You are able to make all grace abound to us, Your children, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, we may abound in every good work that You have called us to even before we were born.
May we live in complete reliance upon You and in joyful surrender and full obedience to You, for You can do all things and no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. May we always trust Your plan that is good, pleasing, and perfect, just like You, faithful God.
May You be at the centre of our lives.
In Jesus’s name we pray,