How to Hold onto Your Identity in the Midst of Failure

You know how little kids’ voices shake and jerk out in single syllables when they’re having a meltdown?

That was me in the car the other week, calling my husband about about my first meeting with an editor at a writer’s conference.

You know how you have no idea how much something means to you until it’s kinda too late, and the opportunity has drifted past?

That was also me.

You know how some failures are small, and daily, and others are larger, and the sort that have the power to color your experiences going forward?

Me again. This one was the big kind.

And you know how easy it is to let failure feel like your first name?

Yeah…me too, friend.

For sure the meeting hadn’t gone as planned. I had known that my online presence was still too small to interest a publisher, but I had hope to have the proposal viewed and the idea vetted. I had worked for months on little else besides preparation for this appointment. I had researched the content and written it, researched the process of pitching and practiced it, and even researched the editor and learned more about her. And, I failed anyway.

I let my nervousness get the better of me. Since I had worried during my preparation about sounding stilted and rehearsed, I hadn’t fully memorized my presentation—just in case my brain went on the blink (it did). By the time I walked out of my fifteen minute appointment, the editor had no clear idea of what my book idea was about, because I had not managed to express it.

That’s when the tears started.

And, they kept me company off and on for about twelve hours.

Let’s be fair—this kind of failure does not devastate, or even complicate, the future. I didn’t fail my family, or betray a friend, or butcher a relationship. These kinds of failures are more serious, though never nonredeemable through the grace and goodness of God.

No, I simply failed myself, and frankly, my work.

This isn’t the type of failure that has the opportunity to define me publicly.

But, it could wield the power to define me to myself.

And how I choose to define myself in my own heart and mind will result in a life lived well or lived lost.

So when everything feels fallen apart, and you’ve worked long and hard for something, and failed someone, maybe even yourself…how do you hold onto the good news of your identity in the middle of the bad news about your ability?

This is what I’m learning about it:

N0. 1) Go back to the beginning

We live in a culture that defines us by our accomplishments. What we can do—our ability—determines our identity. It’s an easy lie to live.

But this isn’t actually where our identity begins. Our identity began in a garden, birthed in grace and breathed out in the breath of God.

So God created man
in his own image;
he created him in the image of God;
he created them male and female.

Genesis 1:27

We have been made in the very image of God, and through Christ we are also his cherished children.

But to all who did receive [Jesus], he gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born, not of natural descent, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.

John 1:12-13

None of this changes when I fail.

I am still carrying the image and likeness of God. I am still his child. I still belong.

I have to choose to believe this, though. And unless I’m convinced of it, I can begin to question my worth. Going back to the beginning brings who I am into clearer focus, independent of my experiences.

N0. 2) Remember the kind of love living in you

For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 

John 16:27

To be loved by God means to be loved by a perfect Father. It means to be loved unconditionally and without reservation, and this despite every single flaw being known and seen.

The Father’s attitude towards those in Christ doesn’t change based on the brokenness of our behavior, or the poverty of our performance.

When I fail…I am still loved.

When I sin…I am still loved.

When I despair…I am still loved.

The pain doesn’t push him away, and the tears don’t make it awkward. The questions don’t threaten him, and the pleas don’t annoy him. The doubt doesn’t spook him, and the failures don’t frighten him. He is the Father, good and faithful and grace-giving.

Any voices that say otherwise simply aren’t telling the truth.

This kind of love leads me home to his heart, and assures me of my security in him, sans performance.

N0. 3) Know the narrative doesn’t end here

When I became a new creature in Christ I was gifted eternal life. Eternal life, by definition, has no beginning and no end. Whatever the outlook of a closing chapter today, good or bad, it’s not the end of the book. Nor the story.

What God will do with the fragments of failure in my life cannot be fathomed. But I whole-heartedly believe that my biggest failures will always be his greatest successes. By this I don’t mean the circumstances will improve, or I’ll get whatever it is I want in the end. I mean that God works all things together for good, and his strength becomes apparent in the afflictions wrought of my weakness.

The work God does within me through my failure is always success.

He has a good work to do in me, and good work for me to do through him, and neither is jeopardized by my inabilities in any circumstance.

This we know: the darkest nights in our narratives bring the brightest dawns. Again, not because our problem gets fixed, or our pain disappears…but because we learn better how to move forward well. We recognize our own misconceptions about the will of God and how his Kingdom works. We receive the opportunity to choose faith over fear when facing the truth of our identity in Christ. We know him better.

What if the secret to success in the Christian life was realizing Christ has already succeeded? Despite our failures, our flaws, our efforts, or our experiences? What rest could this mean to the soul run ragged, the body bent by remorse?

Believing my identity is that of an image-bearer, chosen child, and a soul whose “success” is defined by Christ’s, is enough to hold onto in the face of any disappointment, discouragement, or failure.

What happened doesn’t change—but I change. And this is the gift of grace hidden in the hard stuff.

As I wept my way through the rest of that difficult day, I kept circling back to these truths making home in my heart. I was being given the opportunity to live more of the story I want to write—my identity doesn’t rise and fall on my wins and failures, but on the unwavering grace of God.

I snatched a few moments to write out a reminder to myself in my notebook:

“I am not defined by all I didn’t know,
or all I couldn’t say.
I am defined by the Truth,
and he says I am loved,
I am forgiven,
and I am complete.
And this message does matter, and will be shared.”

Holding onto my identity became my highest priority in the midst of failure, and a way to write more of the story. That’s something to seize, and celebrate.

What about you? What failures have you learned to embrace, because of how they’ve reminded you of God’s heart? How have you learned to grab hold of your identity in Christ? I read all my comments and I’d love to hear from you!

8 thoughts on “How to Hold onto Your Identity in the Midst of Failure”

  1. Thank you for sharing your heart and encouraging others in the process. I can’t wait to see the next chapters of your story unfold.

  2. Oh, Amanda—I’ve been there. Rejections galore in this writing journey. It is only later (sometimes MUCH later) that we are able to look back and see beautiful growth through that heartwrenching pain. Lean into Him. Persevere. And yes, rejoice that your identity is in Christ! Thanks for sharing… I’m cheering you on!

  3. Isn’t it funny how the temporary rejection of a book you’re called to write served as the impetus for you to lean harder into the message it contains? I’ve been experiencing the same painful kind of funny. How privileged we are to be the bearers of messages we continually need for ourselves!

    With encouragement and love from a fellow hope*writer.


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