Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God. – 2 Corinthians 3:4-5 (NRSV)
Competent. Is that a high bar or a low one?
For all the competence that comes from God, I still fail with high-but-not-surprising frequency. My capacity for competence is limited. Some days, it’s a task I fail to accomplish. Some days, it’s a relationship I disappoint. Some days, getting out of bed and facing the day is beyond my capacity. Some days, trusting love and extending grace in a world consumed by ego is too high a bar.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” wrote Paul in a different letter to the good people of Philippi.
But what if I can’t?
“Can’t” is a difficult, painful spiral of the spirit, a desolate place where the failures of life and the failures of faith are ghosts whispering constantly, “It’s not possible.” Redemption isn’t possible. Grace isn’t possible. Fulfillment isn’t possible. Like death and taxes, the only thing those haunting voices are certain of is failure.
It’s lovely that Paul can do all things through Christ, but many of us can’t do all things or even most things. Especially when a sense of failure weighs us down.
And yet, even when Paul’s confidence irritates and exacerbates those haunting choruses of “I can’t,” Paul knows something that our worst ghosts don’t: the world’s valuation of failure and God’s valuation of competence exist on two completely different scales. The bootstrap by which I judge myself as a failure is not the love by which God knows me to be capable.
Even when I fail, still I will rejoice.
Rachel Hackenberg serves on the national staff for the United Church of Christ. She is the author of Writing to God and the co-author of Denial Is My Spiritual Practice, among other titles. Her blog is Faith and Water.