Fess Up To Your Mess Up by Dr. Robert Jeffress

Life is filled with perplexing questions for which there are no easy answers.
For example . . .

  • Why isn’t phonics spelled the way it sounds?
  • Why are there interstate highways in Hawaii?
  • If a vegetarian eats only vegetables, then what does a humanitarian eat?

Here’s one more: Why do we deny our failures rather than admit them? You would think we would eventually learn that covering up our mistakes never works. But that doesn’t keep us from trying, does it?

It's Time To Fess Up To Your Mess Up

It's Time To Fess Up To Your Mess Up

Nothing will sap your physical and emotional energy more than the constant, nagging worry: What if somebody finds out?

The Blame Game

The tendency to hide our failure started in Eden. When Adam and Eve rebelled against God, their first instinct was to try to cover over their sin, so they made ill-fitting coverings of fig leaves and tried to hide from God.

God confronted Adam about his sin, and Adam said, in essence, “I was perfectly happy until You created that woman. She’s to blame for this.” Then God approached Eve, and she basically said, “Everything was going along great until that serpent You created made me a deal I couldn’t refuse.” That has been the tendency of every descendant of Adam and Eve ever since. When we fail, we deny responsibility for our sin. If we can’t deny it, then we blame someone else for it.

But failing to accept responsibility for our failures not only prevents us from receiving the forgiveness we desperately need, but it also precludes us from experiencing the new beginning we desperately desire.

The first and perhaps most important decision we have to make about our failure is whether we are willing to fess up to our mess-up.

Roadblocks to Admitting Failure

There are three reasons we try to deny our failures. One reason is pride. The essence of pride is an inflated view of ourselves. We “think more highly of [ourselves] than [we] ought to think” (Romans 12:3). The result? When we experience failure, we blame someone else.

Sometimes pride is the primary cause of our failure.

  • A wife convinces herself that a friendship with another man is safe because she thinks she is too moral to fall into an affair.
  • A pastor launches into a building program that the church opposes because he thinks he is more connected to God than his parishioners.
  • A worker close to retirement invests his nest egg in a “can’t-miss” stock because he thinks he is more financially astute than his wife, who voices concern.

Other times we allow fear to keep us from acknowledging mistakes. We are afraid that admitting our failure will result in a painful loss, such as termination, divorce, bankruptcy, or even imprisonment. So we try to hide our failure as long as we can.

A third reason we avoid confessing our failure is ignorance. We try to hide our mistakes because we naively believe we can hide our mistakes. Even though we regularly witness other people’s mistakes being exposed, we convince ourselves that we are better cover-up artists than they are. We are like the boy who denies he was anywhere close to the cookie jar while crumbs are dangling from his mouth. No matter how hard you try to hide the evidence, eventually your failure is going to be exposed.

Positive Results of Admitting Our Failure

There are several benefits of fessing up to your mess-up after you make a mistake in life.

Admitting Our Failure Allows Us to Receive God’s Forgiveness

Receiving God’s forgiveness is the greatest benefit of confession. Only when we are ready to admit our failure will we be in a position to receive God’s forgiveness. God is more than willing to forgive us, but we must be willing to ask.

Admitting Our Failure Results in Renewed Emotional and Physical Vitality

Nothing will sap your physical and emotional energy more than the constant, nagging worry: What if somebody finds out?

If you are physically and emotionally exhausted from trying to hide your failure, then go ahead and admit it to God. You’re not giving Him new information, and you will experience the physical and emotional relief that comes from confession.

Admitting Our Failure Encourages Us to Hit the Reset Button of Our Lives

Occasionally it is helpful to hit the Reset button in our lives. We need to start over in a new direction. Acknowledging our failure denotes the beginning of our second act. Whenever we are haunted by guilt over our failure or tempted to repeat the same mistake, we can say, “That’s part of my past. I’m ready for my future.”

Admitting Our Failures Allows Us to Learn from Our Mistakes

Someone has used the word mistake as an acrostic for the benefits of failure.
Mistakes are:

  • Messages that give us feedback about life.
  • Interruptions that should cause us to reflect and think.
  • Signposts that direct us to the right path.
  • Tests that push us toward greater maturity.
  • Awakenings that keep us in the game mentally.
  • Keys that we can use to unlock the next door of opportunity.
  • Explorations that let us journey where we’ve never been before.
  • Statements about our development and progress.

A foolish person keeps repeating the same mistake over and over again, but the wise person is willing to learn from his mistakes. We can only profit from our failure if we are willing to admit our failure.

Whether or not others forgive your failure, God is always willing to forgive if you are willing to ask.

Admitting Our Failures Allows Us to Learn from Our Mistakes

Admitting Our Failures Allows Us to Learn from Our Mistakes

A foolish person keeps repeating the same mistake over and over again, but the wise person is willing to learn from his mistakes. We can only profit from our failure if we are willing to admit our failure.

How to Fess Up to Your Mess-Up

Now that we’ve discovered the benefits of admitting our failure, let’s learn how to fess up to our mess-up in a positive and healthy way.

Determine If You Have Really Failed

Sometimes our judgment about failure is accurate because it’s based on God’s Word, but sometimes what we label as a failure is not really a failure at all.

Before you label an event in your life as a failure, ask yourself two important questions. 

1. What standard am I using?

First, ask yourself, “What standard am I using to make my judgment?” An unrealistic standard can lead to a faulty conclusion we have failed. For example, someone who opens a small retail store and is distraught because he does not have the same sales volume as the local Walmart has based his judgment on an unrealistic expectation. Instead of using a super conglomerate as the basis of comparison, he should look at a similar-sized store in a similar-sized town.

2.  Am I making this judgment prematurely?

The second question to ask before labeling an event as a failure is, “Am I making this judgment prematurely?”

  • Just because your children are rebelling against your authority now doesn’t mean that they will never listen to you.
  • Just because you didn’t receive the promotion this year doesn’t mean you won’t get it next year.
  • Just because you lost money in the stock market doesn’t mean you will lose money in the future.

Failure is a judgment about an event based on a subjective standard that is made at a point in time. Failure is not always final.

Identify the Role Others May Have Played in Your Failure

If we are going to learn from our mistakes, then we must acknowledge the role other people played in our failure. This is counterintuitive, because we think the Christian thing to do is to sweep it under the rug. But we must identify the role others played in our failure so we don’t repeat the same mistake.

Failing to acknowledge the role other people played in our failure also keeps us from being able to forgive them. One of the most important ingredients for moving on to the second act in your life is experiencing the freedom that comes from forgiveness. And you can only forgive people you are first willing to blame.

If we are going to learn from our mistakes, we must acknowledge what role—if any—others played in our failure. Divorces, financial setbacks, terminations, and lapses of morality are rarely exclusively our fault. Refusing to focus on the part others may have played in our failure is unwise for
two reasons.

First, failing to identify how others may have contributed to our failure may cause us to fall into the failure trap again. A woman who blames only herself for a divorce from an abusive husband is in danger of marrying the same kind of man again. The small-business owner who denies the role a dishonest partner played in a failed venture may choose a similar partner again.

Additionally, failing to identify the role others played in our failure prevents us from being able to forgive them. Before we have the freedom to begin a second act, we must forgive those who played a role in our first-act failure. Forgiveness is not denying that someone has wronged us. Forgiveness is acknowledging someone has injured us and then releasing our right to hurt our offender for hurting us.

Acknowledge Your Responsibility for Your Failure

Even if the failure you have experienced is 99 percent someone else’s fault, you still need to fess up to your 1 percent responsibility. Why is that so important? We can never learn from our failure if we are unwilling to admit our part in the failure.

Admitting our failure may also encourage other people to help us. Imagine two friends ask you for financial assistance. The first one says, “Would you lend me $500? I don’t know how l got into the shape I’m in. Bad luck, I suppose.” The second friend says, “Would you lend me $500? I made a mistake and used my credit card too often. But I’ve learned my lesson and cut up my Visa card.” Which friend would you be more inclined to help? You would probably be more sympathetic with the one who admits his fault. In the same way, others will be more likely to help us in our second act if we are willing to admit our failure.

To whom should we fess up when we fail? If our failure is personal and has not injured another person or offended God, we only need to admit the failure to ourselves. However, if our failure has injured another person, we need to seek forgiveness from that person. You cannot control whether or not another person chooses to forgive you for your failure. However, admitting your mistake and seeking forgiveness allow you to experience a clear conscience, which is vital to launching a second act in life.