Woman walking on arrow

When I Thought I Was Following God’s Will—but Then Failed

Written by Grace, Philippines


I was barely two years into my first job when I decided to quit and pursue a master’s degree so I could go into teaching. I had many wonderful memories of learning from brilliant professors in college, and I wanted to pass on that experience. I also sensed that my current job did not offer much progression down the line, so it seemed sensible to quit and try a different field.

Around that time, I remember reading a lot of Christian resources about God’s leading. There was a devotional about how God would call His people to “go forth”—whether it was the Israelites, or the faith heroes who took bold steps to fulfil God’s calling. Many articles talked about how the key is to “not be afraid”, i.e., “move forward”. One book even said something about how God rarely calls people to stay.

So I took all these things to mean that God’s will is for us to keep moving forward in life and to do “big and brave” things for Him—which seemed to line up with my decision to quit my job and go into teaching.

Since I was obeying God by not letting fear of change hold me back, this somehow translated in my head to mean that everything will be okay. I thought that so long as my intent was pure, I worked my hardest and trusted God to lead me, it will all work out.

As you might’ve guessed, it did not “work out”.

Shortly after entering grad school, I realised I didn’t have enough foundational knowledge for the course I’d chosen. In fact, I had picked the course for a shallow reason—it was just because of this fun elective class I had back in college.

While I managed to scrape by my classes, I struggled with imposter syndrome and was constantly worried about flunking. When time came to write my thesis, I didn’t know what to write. The only advice my mentor had was to give myself time—time that I felt I couldn’t afford, as I’d been studying fulltime for three years and was desperate to graduate and start working again. If I didn’t finish, that would be three years (and money) down the drain.

Through all this, I prayed to God to remove my anxiety that was crippling my mind. I pored over Scripture and dug out all the verses about fear. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not worry about tomorrow. Do not be anxious. The peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your heart.

Despite repeatedly praying these verses, my anxiety did not lessen by one bit; I didn’t feel miraculously illuminated after reading the Bible and praying. I felt hopeless stuck and couldn’t see a way out.

For someone who had never failed school and was raised all her life to “finish whatever you start”, the thought (shame) of not finishing or failing felt worse than death. Many nights I’d go to sleep wishing I wouldn’t wake up anymore.


When I finally overcame. . . and then didn’t

It took a family friend who was like a father figure to me to help dispel the fear in my head. When I was due to attend a fellowship that would require me to present my thesis proposal, Uncle David happened to be visiting our home, so he sat me down and talked to me.

Amid my tears, all I remember him saying was, “Why don’t you just go and try, write what you can, and if you can’t, then just come home.”

Even though I didn’t want to consider the possibility of not finishing, being told that I could just come home even if I failed was a huge relief. It comforted me to hear that even if I fail, I still had a home to return to, and people who loved me.

Looking back at this moment and the anxiety-riddled months before, I realised that I’d grown up with the notion that failure was unacceptable. In fact, having people tell me, “You can do it!”, “You’re not going to fail!”, wasn’t helpful, because what I heard implicitly was:

  • failure just wasn’t an option;
  • people wouldn’t know what to do with me if I failed, and
  • if I would only believe in myself and stop feeling afraid, I wouldn’t fail.

Yet, as people around me had “predicted”, I didn’t fail my thesis. God did give me the strength to keep writing despite my anxiety. He also allowed me to have illuminating conversations with my peers that helped me get past the roadblock in my research.

So I finished, graduated, and applied to teach in the same department I had studied in. I figured I had to see things through, and it seemed like the only way I could apply my degree was to teach.

Then, I finally fell flat on my face.

I wish I had known this earlier, but having studied the course didn’t actually equip me to teach it. Every day was painfully difficult. I couldn’t think fast enough to answer the good questions students were throwing at me. I didn’t know how to grade the essays objectively. I was truly in over my head.

Halfway through the semester, I began to experience suicide ideation, which made me realise that quitting was the better option. After tearfully talking to my parents and to the department chair, I resigned.

In the aftermath, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Did God mean to lead me through all this, or did I simply choose wrongly? Did God fail me by not healing me of my anxiety, or did I mess up by quitting too soon?”

But God doesn’t fail, right? It must be me. I figured I couldn’t blame God, because He never did explicitly say teaching was going to work out for me.


God’s slow and gracious healing

Reeling from the shame and self-blame, I told myself I simply had to start over. After a few months of rest, I found a relatively easy job and “resigned” myself to a “simple, ambitionless” life.

As I numbly went through the motions of working and living, I didn’t think that much about God, even though deep down I knew He was there. Looking back, I imagine it was a period of us walking in silence. I wasn’t angry at God, but I was deeply disappointed with myself.

God was gracious to carry me through that time. He gave me friends who were compassionate to walk with me and help me find joy again. He gave me my family, who loved and cared for me unconditionally.

As the Lord slowly healed me, I eventually came to see how pride was at the root of my fear. I was so terrified of what people would think of me, to the point that I thought it was better to not live than fail and live in shame.

But in allowing me to hit what felt like rock bottom, God made me see that I could live even if people thought less of me. It was really my pride that refused to let that happen. It was pride that made me feel humiliated, when I could instead humbly accept failure as part of being human, having limitations, and needing to grow.

Over time, God allowed me to gradually move forward and put behind the “missteps” I had made. There were many days I thought of all the “perhaps” and “could-have”—

  • perhaps I could’ve done more to prepare myself for teaching;
  • perhaps I could’ve stuck it out longer;

but God reminded me that because I was not Him, I could not have known everything ahead of time, and I can’t control everything. Not having control meant that I was free to let Him do what I could not, including letting Him take care of me.

God mercifully enabled me to continue believing in His goodness when I couldn’t see any good in my future. I remember how, in those days, I often held to the words in Habakkuk 3—to paraphrase, though there is just nothing on nothing, I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour (vv.17-19).

Does God’s help shield us from failure?

As I think back to all those reassuring verses about God’s help and leading, I can’t help but wonder, is it possible that God promising His presence doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t fail? Could we be making false equations—that faith equals success—because of how we read certain verses in the Bible, such as:

  • Do not fear; I will help you. (Isaiah 41:13)
  • He will not let your foot slip. (Psalm 121:3)
  • Though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand. (Psalm 37:24)
  • No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame. (Psalm 25:3)

Do we take verses like these to mean, if God helps me, then I will not—cannot—fail?

Could this be why we repeatedly buy into the myth that “God’s will” means things will all work out?

I realise that just as we tend to see “good” differently from how God does, we also tend to see “failure” differently. To us, setback is failure. Taking longer than normal to finish is failure. Giving up is failure. Not living up to people’s expectations is failure.

And it could be that these are failures. Yet to God, such failures are opportunities, even if painful ones, for us to grow—in patience, wisdom, strength, and dependence on Him. It’s not that God deliberately wants us to fail, or that there are no consequences for failing. What’s important is that God is with us even in our failures, and He is gracious to help us get back on our feet.

God used my failure in that season to help me realise many things, such as:

  • life isn’t exactly about being able to achieve anything you put your mind to; putting my nose to the grindstone doesn’t guarantee that things will work out;
  • failure isn’t the end of me, and though I need to face the music, I face it with God;
  • living in faith means trusting God enough to carry out your responsibilities to the best of your ability and leaving the outcome to Him.


Moving forward

Even as I now work in a job that seems better suited for me, I continue to encounter setbacks that lead me back to the same lessons. There have been times where I’ve worked hard on something, and it’s just not panned out, or I’ve been assigned to do something that I knew someone else could do better, and I’ve had to face my fear of being inadequate and do it anyway.

Every time I’m hit hard by the fear of failure, God has been patient to remind me that what matters to Him is I do the work faithfully, even when I can’t do it at the level that I think is “good enough”.

While I sometimes still feel sad that I can’t be the kind of “high flyer” I wish I could be, God continues to impress on me that He has made me who I am and given me a place in His kingdom (2 Timothy 1:9, Romans 12:1-8). He has gifted me with skills to use, even if the scale and scope might be different from what I’d envisioned.

Though God hasn’t promised me that my job now will be my “forever job”, He does promise to keep walking with me and guiding my steps (Hebrews 13:5-6, Proverbs 16:9). I know I am where I am now because He has brought me here, and wherever I may end up in the years to come, I know He will have carried me to that point and will sustain me to do whatever He calls me to (Philippians 4:19).

1 reply
  1. ann
    ann says:

    such a blessing to read this. it’s speak so much to me personally too. all glory to God and rest assured that He is indeed always with us. amen


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