If there is one thing I don’t know much about, it’s success. I’ve never been the beautiful girl who walks into a room and takes everyone’s breath away. I’ve never been the richest, the smartest or the fittest. I was never even the funniest kid growing up—and trust me, I tried hard. I never had the best style; I was never the best leader; I was never homecoming queen, was never the class president, never, never, never. I was a lot of nevers.
I am trying to figure out what success means. Being above average? Your SAT scores or your college? Your first real job, your promotions, your salary, your spouse, when you marry, if you marry? Is success measured by how many valuable items you own when you die, or your globetrotting memorabilia? Does being successful mean obtaining as much wealth as you can, then living modestly so as not to show it off—or giving it away? Does being successful mean providing for your family or owning a home? Making sure your family has shoes when it’s cold and clean water to drink?
Or, what if being successful meant something more than that?
I am about to turn 21, and I am wondering if I am cut out for leading a “successful” life. Those things might measure success. But I don’t know.
I think about how average I am. How, at 20, I’ve already failed my fair share of things. How I haven’t really met any of these standards I’ve set. And that leaves me sitting here, in all my unmet measurements and materialistic life-goals, and wondering how this fits in with my faith.
It’s perfectly human to want good things. It’s good to provide for your family, to be financially stable and to make sure your family does not go hungry. But if being successful is measured simply by a lack of hunger and this separates the “haves” from the “have-nots,” then frankly, a lot of the world isn’t matching up. So maybe there’s another way of measuring success.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says that those who will be given the title of “righteous” will be the ones who fed him when He ran out of food stamps; they clothed him when His shoes wore out and His clothes started to smell; they housed Him when He was kicked out of the shelter; they helped take care of Him when He was sick with AIDS; they visited Him in prison because everyone else had given Him up for a lost cause.
These righteous ones, these “successful” beings, will probably say something like “Uh, Jesus, when did we do those things to you?” And He’ll probably reply with something like, “When you did that for the homeless crazy, for the pregnant teenager, for the homosexual, for the murderer in prison, for the hungry crack addict, for the punk teenager with nothing better to do, you were doing all of that to Me. And no one saw it but that person and Me. And now I’m going to bless you for it.”
Jesus is saying, “The reality of life is that you will experience Me through relationships with other people. And I will experience you.”
And this is where I find the most hope. In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers says, “Jesus Christ’s life was an absolute failure from every standpoint but God’s. But what seemed failure from humanity’s standpoint was a tremendous triumph from God’s, because God’s purpose is never humanity’s purpose … The friendship circle of God is made up of humans who know their poverty. He can do nothing with the person who thinks he or she is of use to God. As Christians we are not out for our own cause at all, we are out for the cause of God … We are prone to say that because someone has natural ability, he or she will make a good Christian. It is not a question of our equipment but of our poverty, not of what we bring with us but of what God puts in us; not a question of natural virtues of strength of character, knowledge and experience—all that is of no avail in this matter.”
We can recognize that it’s not and never has been about us, and we don’t have to worry about what we don’t have or haven’t done. So I wonder if success could be measured in how many people you smiled at in one day, or how much you gave away, despite your own lack. Or what if success is measured by how much you didn’t have when you died?
We are charged with the task of being lights in a dark place, and for us, the pressure to be successful can goad us into forgetting that Jesus radically redefines success. Instead of pursuing the “American dream,” I think we’re called the reality of Jesus’ success.