”Success is to be measured not by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.”
~~Booker T. Washington
What does it mean to be successful? When do you know that you have arrived and the definition of success has been achieved? I asked a few people this over the last few weeks. My nearly 15 year-old son wisely said that if you could support yourself and a family—had a home, a job, etc.—then you were successful. One of my elderly patients noted that success to her was watching her kids grow into responsible adults. For myself…the answers didn’t come as easily.
“If you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you’ll be successful.”
Those were the words of wisdom from a “guru” in a story about a young man who wants to be rich and successful. What left me feeling flat about this “inspirational” video is the speaker stresses the importance of going without food or sleep in order to “make it.”
In other words, have the drive, push yourself—presumably giving up healthy personal relationships, neglecting your body, mind, and spirit, and forgetting the blessings of a balanced life—and you’ll be rich and successful. Youth and old age may produce more basic or heartwarming definitions of success, but, in general, the inspirational video more clearly defines what our culture deems as successful.
I’ve not been following Occupy Wall Street closely, but in the last few weeks there have been stories shared in conjunction with the reports on the protesters that have caused me to stop and think about so-called success. Consider the extraordinary salaries and bonuses that so many executives receive each year. What about the case of billionaire (that’s billionaire, not millionaire) Raj Rajaratnam, a hedge fund manager and one of six recently arrested for alleged inside trading or the drive of the banks to hand out mortgages like candy to trick-or-treaters?
There just seems to be this sickness within the corporate world pushing leaders to guide their practices and actions based on what will make them the most money (legal, ethical or not) and thus make them ever more successful. I was saddened to hear, for instance, that many of the corporations that cut back on their employees’ pensions were rewarding their executives with ridiculously, fat bonuses because of the profits made that year. (Ummmm….and how was it again that they made those profits?)
I wonder, too, if part of the resistance in Washington D.C. of taxing the super rich lies in this notion that these individuals worked hard for their millions and billions and that their success, I mean, their money should not be taken from them.
Even my son’s understanding of success has overtones of this idea that having money equals being successful. If I dug deeper, I’m sure that in his teenage mind a modest home, one car (if that), and basic entertainment (not having every gadget in the world, for instance) would NOT fit his definition of success.
So, what does it mean to me to be successful? Do I consider myself successful? Would others? Does it matter to me what anyone thinks? What does my faith tell me about “making it?”
Three years ago I would have been highly sensitive to these questions. I had moved to the desert to work as an associate pastor the year before, but was now jobless and swimming in debt. I had a fellow pastor tell me that because I had had two pastorates end in just under 5 years, I wasn’t cut out for the ministry.
I had not been successful in her mind. Because I had not worked 50+ hours a week, had not grown the church, and had not created vibrant programs, I was a failure. “If nothing has happened in a year, nothing ever will,” she told me. Sadly, I took her words hook, line and sinker. Not being successful in my career defined my overall success in life. It was an incredibly low time in my life.
Now, having moved through that dark time, success has much more to do with having a life well balanced. More than just being successful in a career, having a rich life means that my mental and emotional health are tended to, my relationships are meaningful, my basic needs are being met, my work is fulfilling and my spiritual life is flourishing.
And what would God deem as successful? How would one’s religious or spiritual practice define success?
In Micah 6:8 we read one of my favorite definitions of success in God’s eyes. “[God] has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy (kindness) and to walk humbly with your God.” Notice the scripture does not say “Be as rich as you possibly can—cheat, steal and deprive yourself and others if you have to.” It does not say “You must own your own home and fill it with every modern convenience and newest gadget possible—even if it means racking up debt.”
It also does not say, “You have to climb the corporate ladder, be well known in your field and leave your mark–only then are you truly successful.” Instead it says that God desires people to be in right relationship with each other, oneself and God. Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with your God.
Your turn. What does it mean to you to be successful? How does your faith define success? In what ways has your culture supported or distorted this spiritual/faith definition of success? May you be blessed as you ponder these questions. May you have a clear vision of who you are and what God is calling you to do in the world.
I admit it. I am a fanatic for healthy living. I believe in eating organic, non-processed foods, exercising daily, taking vitamins, herbs and minerals, and going to an acupuncturist regularly. I am allergic to wheat and have a daughter who cannot eat artificial colors, flavors or preservatives and must avoid many natural foods that contain salicylates (almonds, berries, paprika, peaches–to name a few). So, eating out is a rare event and home cooked food has to be made from scratch.
Although not always easy, I am very happy with this way of living. But when it comes to others, it is hard to convince them that they, too, would benefit from a change in life style. Try persuading a total stranger that her hyperactive child would be much better off without the processed, easy to serve meal or snack, the extremely colorful birthday cake from the local grocery store or even that innocent bowl of fresh fruit she serves him. (Believe me, I was one of those parents!)
It is difficult to get someone to believe that he or she would feel much better with daily exercise and a healthier diet. Persuading that person that the effort is worth it is nearly impossible. They don’t have a clue that they are hungry, that their bodies are craving and, in some cases, screaming out for healthy living.
I think it is the same for those who are spiritually hungry. We go about our daily lives never fully comprehending that there is something missing or that life could be more meaningful and balanced. We live out our broken, dysfunctional lives unaware that there is any other way to live. And, so, how does one realize that the soul is craving spiritual wellness? How do we know that we are spiritually malnourished?
Admitting that I am “powerless” and especially that my life has become “unmanageable” is key for me (from Step One of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous). These signs–feeling trapped in the struggle of life (powerlessness) and having my life fall apart in the process (unmanageable)–are always my canary in the coal mine. A result of being spiritual malnourished is having a life that’s out of control. This could be at any or all levels of our lives–in our finances, work, physical and mental health, relationships, physical environment or all of the above.
Another sign we need to tend to our soul could be when we experience a single emotion ruling our daily lives. Do you have a tendency to rage? Obsessed with being over-the-top-nothing-is-wrong-in-my-life happy? Caught up in the downward spiral of depression? Constantly suspicious and fear based? Overwhelmed with stress?
My husband witnessed a man caught in traffic screaming, cursing and using choice hand and finger signals at anyone and anything that drove by. I had been stuck in this same road construction days prior and although frustrating, it only lasted 10 minutes tops. Can you imagine the strain his body, mind and spirit took reacting so strongly to a 10 minute delay? And I cannot help but believe that if he had some form of spiritual practice to draw on, a way to move beyond that moment of rage and into a place of serenity–his ten minutes of waiting would have been a breeze and maybe even a blessing.
Spiritual malnourishment is evident in a life out of whack. It is not only about having one emotion dominate, it’s about skewed personal focus. If I am obsessed with Me–My accomplishments, My status and reputation, My needs, My upward mobility, My possessions–and cannot see the connectedness between self and others (God, people, the environment, animals) then I am out of balance. If I have done the opposite and have forgotten myself and have traded my wellness to solely server others, then I am out of balance. For me, spirituality brings about this needed balance in our lives.
So. When do you know that you are spiritually malnourished? What does that look like in your life? How do you tend to your soul? What spiritual practices help you to find balance? How do you benefit from being spiritually grounded?
Share your insights and help inspire others to be spiritually nourished in an ever- increasing, crazy world.
My own personalized license plate.
I had wanted one for years. My attempt at attaining this desired plate in Vermont had failed. But on my first try, after leaving my associate pastor position here in Arizona, I was granted DARE2LV. Dare To Live. That had been my battle cry for years. I had first seen those words in my teens while on an exchange in the Netherlands. They appeared to be the motto for a coat of amour (so says the woman of Scottish decent) on a tile placed in a brick wall. Durf te leven. Dare to live. I imagined those to be words of inspiration and hope to that small village where the brick wall stood during the WWII German occupation.
They would soon be my own words of survival in the years I spent depressed in college. Durf te leven–Dare to live. Dare to embrace life and to fight for joy and serenity. Seek help. Find your way back into God’s light. “Dare to live” were the words that pushed me up out of my despair and onto the path of intentional spirituality.
But when I delved into life as a minister of a church, without knowing it, my adopted motto was evolving. Dare to live was becoming Dare to love. I, the woman who hated conflict, now pastor and later associate pastor, was faced with disagreements, complaints, disputes, miscommunications, and misunderstandings large and small.
I was understanding with each year that passed why Jesus would challenge his disciples and followers to move beyond loving their neighbors to loving their enemies. A no-brainer, actually. Loving someone who loves us back is rather easy, as Jesus put it.
But to love someone who doesn’t share that same feeling? That’s taking your spiritual growth to the next level.
When I felt hurt by someone in the church, whether his or her actions were intentional or not, I was called by my God to love. When I had to face someone who wasn’t ever going to like me, I was called by my God to love. When I was stung with harsh words about my performance or future potential as a minister, I was called by my God to love. Each time I was challenged to move beyond my feelings of hurt, disappointment, betrayal, or whatever the emotional flavor of the day was and to dare to love that person anyway.
So when that license plate arrived in the mail, I was thrilled to have my unique three-word-two-messages-in-one testimony of faith on the back of my car for the world–or at least the Tucson area–to see. It also remained my own daily reminder as to how I was called by God to live my life–with courage and love.
Now let me tell you something else about myself.
I’m reasonably frugal. Not as frugal as my paternal grandmother, but a spend-thrift nonetheless. I didn’t mind paying the extra $25 to attain my unique plate, but I struggled each year after that to justify paying the same fee to keep my plate. I surprised myself with the internal turmoil I experienced each year when debating whether or not to keep that versatile message on the back of my car. It had become an outward expression of my internal spirituality. When on the road, I wanted to be sure my motor vehicle actions reflected my belief in loving others. After all, it would be hypocritical to flip someone off or refuse to allow someone to merge when one’s license plate could be understood as “Dare to love.” And I didn’t want to drive recklessly and have someone interpret DARE2LV as “dare to live–foolish, dangerous and inconsiderate of others.” I didn’t want my fellow travelers to overlook the message of hope I was trying to convey on my plate. I needed to have that same message be reflected in my actions behind the wheel.
I once heard a woman say that she refused to put bumper stickers with Christian messages on the back of her car. Although a Christian herself, she was prone to road rage and didn’t want to be that above mentioned hypocrite. She wasn’t about to change her ways, however, on the road. So to prevent this hypocrisy she didn’t advertise her faith on her bumper. Interesting, huh? Her faith only called her to behave Christ-like when people knew she was a Christian. It did not call her to change her ways and to embrace that “peace that passes all understanding” while in traffic.
This made me consider my own dilemma. Was I trying to be a considerate driver because of the message on my license plate or because my faith calls me to consider my actions no matter what my bumper reads? Would my driving behavior change without it? Was I really trying to spread words of hope or was I holding on to my unique plate for self-righteous reasons?
Truthfully, I have not fully resolved any of these questions, but I will say that for the last month I have been driving around town with an absolutely boring, meaningless license plate issued to me by the state of Arizona and…I’m doing fine. I haven’t dramatically changed my driving behavior nor have I strayed from my faith. I might be missing out on inspiring a few observant drivers, but I will trust that my actions will speak louder than words.
So…What inspires you to live out your faith? When was the last time you were a hypocrite to that faith? And what challenges you most about your beliefs or faith teachings?
Take time today to reflect on who you are or would like to be as a person of faith. Who is God calling you to be? What does it mean to be walking your spiritual path? May you be blessed with epiphanies, clarity and inspiration.