In “Our Greatest Gift, a Meditation on Dying and Caring,” Henri Nouwen said:
“Jesus lived less than forty years; he didn’t travel outside his own country; the people who knew him during his life scarcely understood him; and when he died, only a few of his followers remained faithful. In every respect, his life was a failure. Success had left him, popularity had dwindled, and all his power was gone. Still, few lives have been so fruitful; few lives have affected the thinking and feeling of other people so deeply; few have so profoundly shaped future cultures; few have influenced so radically the patterns of human relationships. Jesus himself referred constantly to the fruitfulness of his life that would only become manifest after his death.”
Too often, the way I would describe success would be in conflict with the way Jesus did/does. The life and death of Jesus is the exact opposite of the way our culture tries to define success.
Nouwen also said:
“The real question before our death is not, How much can I still accomplish, or How much influence can I still exert? but, How can I live so that I can continue to be fruitful when I am no longer here among my family and friends? That question shifts our attention from doing to being. Our doing brings success, but our being bears fruit. The great paradox of our lives is that we are often concerned about what we do or still can do, but we are most likely to be remembered for who we were. If the Spirit guides our lives—the Spirit of love, joy, peace, gentleness, forgiveness, courage, perseverance, hope and faith—then that Spirit will not die but will continue to grow from generation to generation.”
Doing is important. The world does not need more people who simply sit around and theorize about all the things that need to be done, and how if someone would just do it, then world would be a better place. We must put our faith into action.
But, if we want to do something that lasts, then it must come from a place of being. From people who have been radically changed by the power of God at work within us.
I can be a success and leave nothing good or positive or long term behind.
To be honest, I often pray for, dream about, and obsess over success. The truth is, however, if I am not the kind of person God is calling me to be…any success I may experience will end with me. When we allow God to make us into the people he wants us to be…our lives will continue to bear fruit, to influence, to do good, even when we aren’t here.