“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly,…”
– excerpt from the speech “Citizen in the Republic” by Theodore Roosevelt, delivered at the Sorbonne, Paris, France on April 23, 1910
This quote says so much. It is not a cry to strive to achieve perfection. It bestows reverence on the imperfections, the failures, the falling down again and again. Because those who “dare” to try, even though it means failure and hardship, are the valiant courageous ones. And they should lend no credence to those who stand OUTSIDE the arena and criticize them. For the critics have not endured the trial of the arena; they have no scars to show. How can they possibly stand as judge?
Ironically, the “critic” who shouts the loudest, with the most biting remarks, is the voice inside my own head. I am my own worst critic. And I need to stop listening to that critic.
There IS hope. For there is another ‘voice’ in my head, a voice that has grown stronger over the years. This voice is not a critic. It is the voice of good news. And it tells me that I am loved and accepted, even as I am covered in dust, sweat, and blood. And there is absolutely NOTHING I can do or should do that can diminish or increase that love and acceptance. And once I started believing that…I mean, really believing that, I could truly love and accept myself in the midst of my dust, sweat, and blood. And that, in turn, decreased my fear. And when I wasn’t responding out of fear (or should I say, shame?), I had more patience and love for others. And I started to become the person I really wanted to be. And all my years of striving to be “perfect” (or at least, “good enough”) could not achieve what love and grace did. THAT is the GOOD NEWS!
So for all of you who feel like failures from time to time…or often: be encouraged. There IS hope. God’s love and grace can transform us like nothing else can. It can take years, with triumphs and setbacks. It takes a change in what we think about ourselves. But it CAN happen. And I believe God is personally invested in helping each one of us to this end.
P.S. I would highly recommend reading the book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown. She addresses vulnerability and shame which I believe are foundational in how we view ourselves and others, and in our ability to love and accept ourselves and others. It is a very good book!