Here’s an ambition that sent me running in the wrong direction for most of my Christian life: I wanted to be “spiritually successful.”
In some ways, it was a great goal. My church’s mission is to disciple “fully-devoted followers of Jesus Christ.” That was part of what I thought of us as spiritual success—deep engagement with God and His will.
But it was the other part of “successful” that got me in trouble. “Success” implies external markers of achievement. A successful business has healthy profits and excited customers. A successful movie wins Oscars and fills theaters.
And in my view, a successful Christian didn’t just submit themselves to Jesus. They looked successful: never suffering from doubt or depression, maturing in their faith in a steady climb, and getting predictable, happy results when they prayed, read their Bible, and served.
Which is why my faith journey after school bewildered me. During high school and college, I’d been an earnest, “on-fire” student leader. But upon graduation, I fell into deep depression, hanging onto faith by my fingernails. Even after the depression abated, my questions, anxiety and cynicism wreaked havoc on my prayer and devotional life. As for spiritual growth, I kept walking in circles.
I didn’t feel “successful” at all.
For a decade, I looked back at college as the pinnacle of my faith. What a sad thing it was to peak, like a child star, before I even reached adulthood.
But a few years ago, I realized that yearning for success that looked successful kept me mired in shame and anxiety instead of drawing me closer to God.
As Richard Rohr puts it, “The revelation of the death and resurrection of Jesus forever redefines what success and winning mean—and it is not what any of us wanted or expected.”
When we let go of our need to appear successful, we come closer to our suffering Savior.
Here’s how God subverts our ideas of “success…”
I was at Relevant Magazine last week, musing about how quickly our need for success can lead us away from God. Won’t you join me there?