Q: How can I pray when I feel so down on myself for constantly making mistakes?
A: I know how you’re feeling, because I had to pray through a similar situation. It wasn’t easy, but several insights helped me break through those “I’m not good enough” feelings. Here’s my story.
My whole life, baseball has been my favorite sport and I have never worked harder at anything else. Coming into high school, I was nervous about playing baseball because I knew the skill level was a big jump for me. But after a winter of training, I felt prepared and ready. When the season started that spring, I was thrilled when the coaches invited me to be on the varsity team as a freshman. As the season progressed, I started every game and quickly found my spot on the team.
When I made mistakes, I would beat myself up for not being good enough.
Then, suddenly, my performance went downhill. I kept making mistakes and I started to question whether I was a good fit for varsity. My teammates and coaches expected so much from me, and I felt like I was just disappointing them. My self-confidence plummeted, and even my enthusiasm for baseball started to diminish. When I made mistakes, I would blame myself for not practicing hard enough and beat myself up for not being good enough.
After practice one day, one of my coaches called me into his office and asked me how I was doing. I told him that I wasn’t confident and felt down on myself for all the mistakes I kept making. My coach is a Christian Scientist, and he responded with a passage that says: “He assumes no borrowed appearance. He seeks no mask to cover him” (Miscellaneous Writings, 1883-1896, p. 147). My coach compared my errors during the game to a mask that was covering my true identity. That helped me see that I needed to identify myself in a different way. I had been identifying myself based on what seemed like my personal abilities, or even worse, my lack of abilities when I messed up. But that limited version of my identity was just a mask, hiding my true identity as spiritual and unlimited. After we talked, my thought shifted and I saw clearly that while I could certainly reflect on and learn from my mistakes, they weren’t actually part of me and didn’t define me. Only God defines me, and I could see myself spiritually, rather than focusing on what I was doing wrong.
As the season went on, I continued to pray with the idea of taking off the mask of limitation and I did see progress. But I still wasn’t satisfied with my performance. The next time I talked to my coach, I told him I was doing better, but I was still having a tough time not fixating on my mistakes.
My coach reminded me of a verse from the Bible, which is one of my favorites: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). I put that passage together with the idea I’d been working on about taking off the mask and it was like finding the final piece of a puzzle. I suddenly understood that I wasn’t doing any of this on my own. I wasn’t trying really hard to play better or even to change an incorrect view of myself. I was leaning on God’s healing power, the Christ, to enable me to do it. Christ was showing me who I really was as God’s creation—while I was on the baseball field and in everything else I did. And this view of myself didn’t include any mistakes to condemn or any self-condemnation. I felt so relieved!
The belief that my mistakes defined me no longer had any power over me.
As the baseball season came to an end, I found I was consistently playing my best games. The belief that my mistakes defined me no longer had any power over me. I was playing freely, and even if I did make a mistake, I wasn’t tempted to beat myself up about it anymore. I would just mentally take a step back, remember the way God created me, and jump back in the game. I regained my confidence and joy and felt like part of the team again.
This healing taught me that we always have a choice in the way we think about mistakes. Rather than learning a lesson and moving on, it’s tempting to focus on mistakes and to be self-critical. But all that does is trick us into believing in an incorrect view of ourselves. Instead, we really can pray, even in a simple way. Just taking a moment to correct this view and to perceive the true view of ourselves—created by God, unlimited, and valuable—allows us to be more of who we are and to start leaving the mistakes behind.