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What Does Success Feel Like?

The other day, the Editor of The Resurgent, Erick Erickson, wrote a thoughtful article about dealing with doubt as one’s career and life undergo change. Here are a few personal thoughts that may be relevant to his reflections.

What does success feel like?

Is it having a multi-car garage in the suburbs, a new BMW parked within, and a management position during the day? Is it being on the board of an organization, or perhaps an elected official, or receiving an award? Is it the accumulation of all the things you’ve ever dreamed about, staying in the best hotels, going on the best cruises?

Is there a place of comfort that says “you’ve made it,” a pinnacle that can be ascended to, a ladder that ends somewhere verdant and peaceful?

Most of us would like to believe we are above such thinking. But we deceive ourselves.

These sorts of thoughts entirely consume the modern narrative about success, as they always have. Because of that, it is hard to completely escape from their grip.

I know. I’ve often been there.

Most of my young adult life, especially, was about proving something to someone. Who? I don’t really know. I guess myself. Perhaps, to a lesser degree, my parents and peers. I did a lot of different things – started a business, ran for office and won, ran for office and lost, was deeply involved in politics, started a newspaper, so on and so forth. Some things were successful. Many were not.

But as I grow older, I realize that the things I’ve accomplished and the things I’ve failed at are not that important.

What really is important, truly, boils down to a few simple things that aren’t as exciting as big houses, fast cars, or high social status. But they are what bring true joy in life.

Faith, relationships, and the mere act of living for others – these things bring great joy. Accumulating things, titles, and status – these do not.

Living for God – this is the purpose of life. Living for oneself – this is the deception of the enemy.

King Solomon discovered these things in his old age, and wrote Ecclesiastes. He had everything a man could possibly desire. And yet, In Chapter 1, verses 2 through 11 (KJV), he writes:

Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits. All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again. All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us. There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.

There is no remembrance of former things, neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.

Contemplating that statement alone, much less the whole passage, gives a startling clarity on the purpose of life.

Most of us run the race of life as if it leads to some place of ultimate enjoyment and comfort. We race towards happiness, looking everywhere, dashing around corners, chasing the sense of fulfillment that comes from “having made it.”

As Solomon teaches us, it is all rather fleeting.

And what does our Lord say in Matthew 6:25-30:

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”

So when have we really made it? If we listen to the words of our Savior, perhaps it is when we’ve stopped trying to “make it.”

Instead of worrying about where we are, what we’ve done, what we haven’t done, who we know, what we have, etcetera – what if we worried chiefly about building a closer relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?

What if prayer, instead of distraction, was our primary focus? What if we focused on smiling and loving others in every small interaction, instead of thinking about how someday, we might be in a place to do that?

And what if every little moment we had, even the short ones, was savored as if it were a great treasure and blessing – because it is – instead of constantly looking ahead to some time in the future when we may or may not “have the time” to be grateful for the bountiful blessings our Lord has granted us?

Is it not true that we meet God chiefly in this very present moment, right now, and not in thinking of the past or the future?

And so, with King Solomon’s help, and the rough-and-tumble experiences of a life fraught with trying to “make it,” I’ve been able to shake off some of that need to “be somebody.”

Lord have mercy, I have so much farther to go. Humility is the toughest virtue to attain, and my sinfulness makes it tougher.

Nevertheless, I am thankful to realize at least some of these things, even in my limited and imperfect manner. I can pass these lessons onto my children and help them, God willing, to have strong values about what matters most in life.

In this special time of year we remember, thank God, that we are given a path, a path that we are now seeing in clear view. For as Easter approaches, we see that God does have a plan for us all. He sent His Son to redeem His creation, all of us sinners, and draw us to Himself.

I am truly grateful for that. It gives life its proper perspective.

A perspective that says “success,” as the world defines it, is not what we are here for.

True success, if it can be called that, feels like the realization of knowing, and being known by, the Lover of Mankind.


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