The Melody and Notes of Your Opus {Book Club}

I am a broken record with this book.

We can relate, can’t we? 

It’s like Angie Smith opened up the play book of the cross-cultural worker’s life and is chapter by chapter in What Women Fear cutting right to the heart of our fears. Today’s is no different: the fear of failure.

When you are called to a life of service, what does it mean to succeed? What does it mean to fail? And how much should our feelings be our guide? Feelings are not bad—and often can be used to guide us!—but they are not supreme.

Do we succeed because others are helped? Or because we showed up? What if we get to the end of a term, or a decade, or a role, or a life and look back, fearing what we will see is a mis-spent season?

In the movie, Mr. Holland’s Opus, he comes to the end of his teaching career and believes that he is a failure. He believes that he has “blown it,” by not publishing the symphony he’d been working on for years and that he wasted his time pouring into students. Not quite wasted, but that his time could have been given to something more important or grander than teaching high-school students.

This scene is about 10 minutes and worth every minute! You can also watch it with your kids :). As you watch it, think of yourself as Mr. Holland and the Holy Spirit as the Governor. If you’re reading this in email, you can watch the clip here. 

Watch the Video

Isn’t the powerful? What a picture of what the Holy Spirit can do in our lives: reveal what is really going on below the surface. When Mr. Holland considered his life mis-spent and a failure, the governor reminded him: “We are the melody and notes of your opus. We are the music of your life. We are your symphony.”

I don’t know how you are feeling in your life of service right now. But I do know this, chances are you feel you have failed or are failing. You wonder if you have messed it up. What’s worse, what if the mess-up shows up years later and people realize what a fraud you are?

Enter Angie’s chapter and five wise words for us related to failure.

1. “Sometimes the fear of failure steals the beauty we were meant to create. . . . To me, failure means it doesn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. To God, it means I didn’t pick up the brush.” 

In light last week’s theme (Art), where have you put down your brush thinking, “I can’t do that here. I could do it there, but not here.”

2. “What I saw as a character flaw, God saw as potential. What I perceived as weakness was going to be my glory-fit. What I was sure was failure was actually the heart of my success.”

What part of your personality or giftings have you wanted to change, but the truth is, God loves that part of you?

3. In the story with Moses, God, and Pharaoh, our idea of what success and failure looks like are rather different than God’s. “It seems to me He is trying to cultivate an obedient heart in Moses.”

I’m reading David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell right now and it is challenging me on how I have been programmed to view success/failure and advantage/disadvantage. How is God helping to rewire you?

4. “As I consider what God is calling me to do, despite my own misgivings, I need to remember the staff given to me. In the midst of my fear, He hands it to me as a reminder of His great power. I didn’t create the staff, nor give it any power. I merely hold it, waiting for further instruction.”

Oh man, this can be a hard one, can’t it? If there is a staff in your hand and a rock near by, the urge to start swinging can be s-t-r-o-n-g!

5. “Exhausted yet pursuing.” 

Pursuing. Yes. Even if I have bought the lie that it is small or will only have to be repeated (hello dishes, disciplining kids, and laundry). In the act of pursuing, I am playing the notes of my opus, which will sound different than yours. Both both of our opuses are beautiful.

Any other movies or books you thought of related to this week’s chapter? What else is going on as you read this chapter? See you in the comments!


P.S. Next week we’ll discuss chapter 5.

Disclosure : Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 


  1. CJ March 28, 2016

    I’m not reading the book, but this theme strikes a chord deep within me. I failed. I misunderstood my role in ministry for two and a half years. God used me in that time, but I did have constantly strained relationships with my coworkers and supervisor. I have always feared failure, and realizing how deeply I had misunderstood my role was the most awful sense of shame and guilt I have ever experienced. Not only did I fail, but as a result, another one of my greatest fears came to life–I got fired from my ministry. It was horrible and I was an emotional disaster all of last year as a result, but God was at work through it all. Throughout the year, fears kept on coming true: it felt like a living nightmare. Yet, as I am now able to start looking back on it all, I see God’s hand. It was time for me to move on from that ministry and be somewhere where I am making better use of the gifts he has given me. God wanted to grow me and work in me, and I often resisted, making the process even more painful and difficult. Yet he was faithful. Even in repeated failure, he remains faithful. He is still at work. Our fears might indeed be realized, yet through it all God is sovereign, God is good, God is love, and he will never let us go. Sometimes we fail. Sometimes we need to fail. And someday, somehow, it will be ok. We can (and must!) still trust God and know that he will eventually bring beauty out of the ashes.

    1. Jodie March 29, 2016

      CJ, thanks for sharing your story of beauty from ashes, of your worst fears being realized and then God turning them into your good and His good. It makes me think of the first point Amy mentioned from the book, “Sometimes the fear of failure steals the beauty we were meant to create”

      You lived through your worst fears and came out the other side with a sense of beautiful redemption. It seems like that would empower you when you face future fears, and ask yourself “what’s the worst thing that could happen?” Whatever it is, God and I can handle that too. I love your line: “God is sovereign, God is good, God is love, and he will never let us go.”

    2. Amy Young March 29, 2016

      CJ, thank you for sharing with us. Your last few years sound like quite the roller coaster ride. I am thankful that you’re in a position to be able to see some of where God has been in the midst of all. I hope in the “firing” you were honorably handled. Sometimes a ministry assignment is not a good fit . . . and those are such confusing times, aren’t they? Why would doors have opened if it wasn’t meant to be? And yet, God IS at work. Being confusing doesn’t mean we are on the wrong path, but it can mean the path will change (as it has for you). Blessings!

    3. Michele Womble March 29, 2016

      CJ, like Jodie and Amy I really appreciate you sharing your story.  I have always feared failure, too.  It’s hard to believe that, like you said, sometimes we need to fail in order for God to do the work He wants to do in us, and in order for Him to bring us to other places – the places, the ministry, where He wants us to be.  And, sometimes we need to fail in order to show His glory.  It’s wonderful that you can see His hand when you look back – and that you FEEL that you are in a place where you are making better use of the gifts He has given you…and so – in the end – it sort of looks more like a success from my point of view reading your story…horrible as it must have been going through it – it sounds like a glory story.

    4. CJ March 30, 2016

      Thanks for your words of encouragement, ladies! Jodie–I hadn’t thought about things from that perspective before. Your are totally right though! Amy, unfortunately I don’t feel like the firing wasn’t terribly honorable. I understood the ministry’s point of view, yet still felt misunderstood by them and felt ashamed and hurt to be fired with no gratitude expressed for my service. Michelle, your words are helping me be able to look back at things in a more positive light. Thank you. Life is messy and painful and doesn’t make sense a lot of the time. And it is beautiful, holy, and joyful. And often it’s many or all of these things at once! Through all of this God has taught me a lot about his sovereignty and love, and to trust and hope in him. Much easier said than done, but…one step, one day at a time. Thanks again for your caring hearts and words of encouragement, ladies!

      1. Michele Womble March 30, 2016

        Isn’t it amazing that it can be all of those things at once?  Thank God that He knows how to take our “mess and pain” and make it into something glorious!

  2. Jenilee March 29, 2016

    exhausted yet pursuing… so much my life right now! I love that whether we succeed or fail, God is working things out in His way, in His time. His definitions of those words are so different from our own! Lord, let us walk in obedience regardless of what our human eyes see as the outcome!

    1. Amy Young March 29, 2016

      They are! (and I need to keep re-orienting myself to His definitions!) 🙂

      1. Michele Womble March 29, 2016

        “re-orienting myself to his definitions” – hmmm – I like it.

    2. Michele Womble March 29, 2016

      I loved that phrase, too, Jenilee! Exhausted yet pursuing!  – Let that be us!

  3. Elizabeth March 29, 2016

    I was reading through Proverbs 29 this morning, and when I came to this, I underlined it: “Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the Lord means safety.” So true!

    I love that scene in Mr. Holland’s Opus! I often think of his line “I was dragged into this thing kicking and screaming, and now it’s the only thing I want to do.” I feel the same way about cross-cultural work. Except of course, I’m not currently being kicked out of my accidental dream job as Holland was. But I so relate to people being the opus of a minister. That’s where our fruit grows — on other people’s trees. And it can be very satisfying, yet at the same time it can also be a little discombobulating if you’re trying to explain to someone where all the fruit or “product” is, and there’s not a lot of hard data to show for it.

    1. Amy Young March 29, 2016

      What a beautiful description!! My fruit (your fruit) growing on other people’s trees. Yes, that is it exactly 🙂

    2. Michele Womble March 29, 2016

      I LOVE Mr. Holland’s Opus.  Thanks for sharing it, Amy.  I remember the first time I saw it – I think I was in St. Petersburg? (Russia) – (Obviously I don’t remember it very well) – but I do remember watching it and being so moved at the end – (crying, of course)

      I love how you put it, Elizabeth – our fruit grows on other people’s trees.  It so much grows on other people’s trees that we can forget it’s there and the role we played in it growing there – and especially if we wander into another row or a completely different orchard or garden…

  4. Aliyah March 29, 2016

    Hey Amy

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I think fear of failure has followed me my whole life. It’s horrible! I worked so hard against it in my school and university years and I achieved so much, won awards which I am proud of but finally God showed me – I was working from a place that wasnt whole, from a place of fearing failure instead of a place of succeeding because I was created for it. I have worked through a lot of it, but still somewhere my brain says – hey what if you fail this. I am still a work in progress. IN a way, I am glad I am not the only one to feel this way – I think most people fear this. Big hugs and hope you have a wondrful week., By the way I love the prompt this week!

    1. Michele Womble March 29, 2016

      Hey Aliyah – me too!  I achieved so much in school and university but  was being driven by that fear of failure – and I’ve had to work through a lot of that, too, and also just that my WORTH is not in those successes or failures at all.

    2. Amy Young April 1, 2016

      We are all in this together, aren’t we :). Big hug back.

  5. Michele Womble March 29, 2016

    I was a distance runner in high school. In high school, I was sure I was going to the Olympics (my friends thought I would, too, or at least that’s what they said).  I ran in college as well – and…I failed.  I did not go to the Olympics – in fact, I didn’t improve much in college from my high school running days.  I really struggled with that – I had failed – failed my own expectations and the expectations of my friends and family.  It was humiliating – and I was also burned out, and I didn’t run again for years (which is beginning to sound a lot like my poetry/music story, but is quite different).  In fact I still struggle sometimes with a sense of failure about it – and you know that dream people have where they are in front of a class naked?  Well – I have a reoccurring dream – but with a different theme – I’m on the starting line of a race and trying to explain to my coach that I haven’t run much and haven’t trained at all in 25 years…Yeah – that’s a BAD dream..:-)

    In spite of my struggle of feelings of failure in that regard, I really do KNOW that it had to be that way.  Because, if I had gone to the Olympics – or even been competitive enough to be competing nationally after college and try out for the Olympics – I would have missed: Russia.  My husband.  My Russian kids.  My Russian friends. My Russian fellowship.  The joy of following God into the unknown.  Cross country skiing across brilliant white snow in a still, silent forest in Siberia…(ok, I know that last one is not the most important, but…I wouldn’t trade even IT).

    I know this isn’t doesn’t sound exactly the same as being obedient and failing – but in a way it is – because I WAS supposed to run in high school and college.  If I hadn’t – I wouldn’t have gone to the college that I went to (it was all about the running). And then – I still would have missed Russia and my husband and etc.

    So I had to run – but then I had to fail at it ultimately (by my definition) – so that I could be where God wanted me to be. (And, I suppose, succeed by His definition).

    I was afraid to fail and ashamed that I had but – oh, I’m so glad of it now!

  6. Spring March 30, 2016

    You have made me want to watch all of Mr Holland’s Opus again!  Funny thing is that we work with the Deaf, but we saw this movie long before this was even a thought in my or my husband’s head. Amazing how that works!

    This theme of “you can’t fail when you’re following God’s will” was one that stuck out to me in the chapter.  My mentor wrote this to me in a note before I left the US.  For me the mom and wife who feels like I’m not “doing” anything important or ministry this really hit home with me.  It obviously was vital to me to remember this.  I am so thankful that God doesn’t see the world as I do!

  7. Emily Smith March 30, 2016

    Ahhh! I finally managed to get the book on time and am reading it along with the book club. But this whole moving across the world thing is getting in the way of me participating more.

    Just want to say…I am loving the book and thank you for choosing it.

    1. Michele Womble March 30, 2016

      Yep, the moving across the world thing does have a way of throwing a wrench in certain things.  Lovely wrench, though. 😉

  8. Phyllis March 31, 2016

    Your #2 was what I really related to. She wanted to be a quiet, background person; sometimes it would be so nice if  I could be a talker and accomplished speaker!

  9. Brittany March 31, 2016

    I’ve been on a journey lately of trying to figure out who I really am. Ask me what my hobbies or gifts are, I’d really struggle. I’m naturally good at a lot of things and I’ve lived most of my life with people telling me what my talents are and pushing me in those directions. I’m realizing now that a lot of who I am is actually who those closest wanted me to be. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but I’m still trying to figure it out. So this fear of failing or fear of success chapter hit me in a really strange way. I don’t want to step in the wrong direction like I’ve felt like I have many times. I don’t want to just do something because everyone thinks I’m good at it and so that’s what I have to do. I also am afraid to succeed at something because what if I’m going to be pushed in that direction the rest of my life? Hm, interesting thoughts that this chapter has brought up for me. I really didn’t think this was going to hit home, but clearly it did…

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