The other day someone asked me a question that, at first glance, seemed like it should have been easy to answer. But when I couldn’t quickly respond, I realized the answer is waiting beneath some layers within me that will take some time to uncover.
Here’s the question: How do you define success?
It was asked in the context of my work (writing and releasing books, in particular) but as I’ve thought about how to answer it, I’ve considered many aspects of my life.
I considered all the various ways I’ve measured success in the past:
When I was a student, success meant good grades, graduation, and living on my own.
When I worked as a sign language interpreter, success meant receiving my National Certification.
When John and I were dating and I knew I loved him, success meant marriage.
When our kids were small, I would probably have said success was having them sleep through the night.
It’s an important question to ask yourself but as I’ve thought about the various ways I’ve defined it throughout my life, I realize how tricky it can be to answer.
If I’m not careful, I will measure success based on something outside myself.
When my soul feels overwhelmed I can almost always trace it back to my trying to define success in terms of an outcome I can’t control.
For me, April has come in like a lion roaring: lots of deadlines, a hundred tiny decisions, longings I can’t quite articulate, and several creative ideas that I’m not sure where to channel.
So far this month, I’ve had to confront some of my own limitations, both as a writer and as a person. And while I know that the best place to meet Jesus is at the corner of my longing and my limits, actually standing at that intersection can feel disorienting, especially when I can’t fully discern how he’s going to show up there.
This morning I sat facing the window, palms open on my lap, breathing out the questions and breathing in hope. It’s counterintuitive to sit still when I’m feeling rushed on the inside. But the truth is that stillness is my souls greatest need.
Sifting through longing, activity, and expectation can feel like walking through a jungle, a canopy of leaves overhead, blocking out the sun. It takes real inner work in the form of silence and listening to find the open, sunlit field of my life in Christ.
Success for me is less about an outcome and more about that inner work. It has to be.
I want to base success on an outcome, but to do so betrays my souls deepest longing. And while I know there are times when real metrics have to be used to measure progress and that numbers aren’t the enemy, when my breathing feels shallow and my soul confused, I have to come back to these three questions:
Am I depending on my Father in ways I’ve not had to depend on him before?
Am I bringing every care into the presence of Christ?
Am I becoming more fully myself?
Today, these are my metrics. For now, this is success.