February 11, 2013

When You Want to Succeed

To be very honest, I've been nervous about actually writing my heart out here in this space again. The past few weeks have been a marketing whirlwind surrounding the book, so I've done the requisite posts about it, and, all-in-all, this book release has just kind of thrown me off. I haven't written something fresh here because I just haven't had much to say, much energy to think, and, really, my brain's been so overloaded that I've had trouble spelling simple words correctly as I've pounded out emails.
But I've also been nervous to come back to this space, this big white empty space calling for real and wise words, because I know right now I don't have real and wise words to offer. I only have a mass of emotion roiling the innermost parts of me. The events of the past few weeks, preceded by the pursuit of getting published these past few years, have come together at this minute in time to form a mirror reflecting my heart back to me.

There is the gratefulness, the overwhelming wonder at having been given such a long-desired gift. There is a recognition of God's goodness. There is a feeling of being carried along on the waves of grace.

But there is more there in the mirror. The hands snatching the Father's gift, clutching it to my side, and re-labeling it as my own accomplishment. The eyes turning away from Him and turning instead to myself and what I want. Oh how quickly does the current of grace grow still and stagnant under my fretfulness and greediness regarding the future.

What I'm really seeing in the mirror is a wrestling match over success: What is it and how is it defined? Or rather, who will define it? If it's defined by Amazon rankings and Twitter mentions, I am successful in one hour but not the next. If it's defined by a book contract, then I may not be successful in the future so I better clutch this fleeting success while I can hold it in my hands. If it's defined by me, than I'm distilled down into whatever I can do or accomplish.

I'm learning this the hard way, people. That's what I'm trying to say here.

But, Praise Jesus, I am not the definer of success. Praise Jesus, He has jumped into the ring this week and called the match in my heart with a resounding shout. I am not defined--and neither is my success--by anything else than that beloved voice. I say that now and will need to say it to myself in the next hour and tomorrow, too.

So what is success? How does that beloved voice define it? He has said that, in His eyes, success is faith and love and a life lived in worship. He has said that the greatest are the ones who rush to serve, and not just to serve, but to serve the least among us. He has also said that we are successful when our hearts are fully His.

I wonder, do you, too? Do you wrestle with success, this turbulent fight to define it by either self-elevation or God-glory? Do you sit in the big, white space of your life and wonder if you're filling it up with real and wise living?

The richness of God-defined success comes in the realization that no matter who we are or what we do, we are wildly successful if we do what we do to honor God. No matter if the day or year's greatest accomplishments are caring for a sick parent who no longer speaks or mothering babies who cannot say thank you or toiling away at a thankless job or sacrificing for a husband who doesn't see. Let us see the glorious truth that faith and love and service as worship are the things that make us great.

I'm learning this the hard way, people. That's what I'm trying to say here.

This is a time that makes it all clear for me. I have achieved some small semblance of worldly success, and, yes, I'm truly enjoying that. But success will be my failure if I re-enter the wrestling ring, if I myself attempt to define what God has already defined for me.

Oh Lord, keep my heart. Keep all our hearts. Keep us all where we can hear Your beloved voice defining our success.

Related writing posts that speak this same heart (and spoke to my heart):

Ann Voskamp on Writing
Shauna Niequist on Why We Write
A sermon by Bill, a pastor at our church, on pride