A question of success

Second blog in two days? Yup. There HAS to be something wrong. Or I have too many drafts sitting around and am finishing them off while I try to avoid other more pressing items on my task list…

Over the Easter period I have been thinking a lot about what it means to succeed. Over the past year I have gone from being full time down to working two days a week, due to the fact that it appears I cannot cope with more.

I am exhausted. There is little else I can say, and while my Dr and psychiatrist work together to work out if there is more to this than the mental health bit, I sit here thinking I don’t really know how to cope anymore with feeling so flat. Like a battery that half heartedly attempts to do it’s job then just gives up with a little whine. What I have been wondering though is what does all of this mean for me? Am I a failure because I cannot achieve great things in the world?

This led me to think about the nature of success, which in turn got me to thinking about what I see in the church around me. What do we know about success from the bible? What do we reward as success in those around us when at church?

I found that I don’t really know! I hear one thing yet often see another. It seems that in church, as with anywhere else, wealth, looks and outward confidence are rewarded with recognition, and not having these qualities is often portrayed as failure. I actually don’t think this is intentional. I think it is cultural conditioning. It is really not all that easy to go against the grain and really, not many are any good at it (in other words, don’t seek reward for their Christ like character and therefore defeating the point). When we come across those that are, we inevitably find we are in awe of them (and occasionally try to bring them down).

The bible teaches us again and again that obedience is success, with Easter being the prompt for this post, I shall use it as my example. What was it that made the story of Easter such a resounding success? It was that Christ did what he came to do. He didn’t compromise, he didn’t sway. He wasn’t bothered by what people thought of him, he cared what God thought.

He taught us to give in secret, to love those around us. He taught us to be salt. Salt, doesn’t stand out, alone, on the side. It doesn’t shine brightly. It becomes a part of it’s surroundings and brings about change by being and bringing something contagiously different.

I am writing this wondering how much I have stretched the idea of salt, but not really caring if it is too far. Light is the same. It transforms it’s surroundings by going into every part of them.

The way the world, and so often the church, rewards success is by bringing an individual out of their surroundings and putting them on a pedestal. Creating in an individual an ‘ideal’, and when this ‘ideal’ fails to meet with our ideal we often inform said individual that they have disappointed us.

The problem I have though, is how do we recognise the success the bible teaches us about? If we take a look at someone like the pope, who is seen to be doing something different – humble, modest and generous in the way he lives his life – do we not then end up putting him up on a pedestal anyway? Also, with this same example, he is already very public. Would we notice someone behaving in the same way if they were not the pope, if it was just an individual who lived the same lifestyle without the constant scrutiny of the worlds media?

I guess my biggest issue with pedestals is how far there is to fall. Inevitably if we raise people up, the moment they get it wrong we are devastated. Their failing demonstrates our ability to fail in the same way their success represented something we were capable of.

The bible tells me I am not a failure. I am a brilliant success of God’s own making. He designed me and I have a purpose. It may not be to work a full time week and become a genius at something, well known throughout the world for my vast brain, extraordinary wit and awe inspiring humility. This does not mean that I don’t have a purpose.

I would like to see a church that is inclusive regardless of our world vision failures. I want to see a church that recognises that each and every individual has a gift that is worth shouting about. Problem is, the church is as much of a world failure as me. It is made up of people who have as much baggage as me, who are as weak as me. So I imagine the church will always be putting people on pedestals. Just as much as it will always be working in the darkness to bring light.

The thing with silent success – and here I am talking about the God success, the biblical success, the individuals working away quietly to help and serve their community and be salt and light – is that it is everywhere, we just don’t hear about it.

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  • Good thoughts…. Pedestals are definitely a dangerous thing when we put anyone/anything other than Jesus there.
    About the exhaustion/depression, I have a similar situation and know that it is wretched to go through (I’m 17, taking two classes and wanting desperately to go to university and stop being so dependent on my parents). Have you considered the possibility of Lyme disease (and/or mycoplasma)? It can cause exhaustion and symptoms that are identical to mental illness or depression. It may sound crazy (and I don’t mean to try to give you medical advice), but for me it was the only diagnosis/treatment that made a difference over a 10-year period of doctors, therapy and medication.

  • I wholeheartedly agree with your final sentiment (and much of the rest, too!). I’ve heard churches being criticised for not being active in their community when I’m aware that lots of work is done ‘on the quiet’ and been torn as to whether to speak up to correct the accuser and let the good works be publicised or keep schtum.

    I’m not convinced that ‘success’ (however we measure it) ought really to be our goal. But if it is, I would like for my legacy to be a general indifference (“he wasn’t generous”, “he didn’t do anything noteworthy”) but for there to be just a few whispers in the background testifying otherwise.

  • I love your vision of church, it’s what I pray for too. I struggle badly with “success” or “achievement” and generally feel a failure, it is so hard and so hard to remember that God loves us just as we are. I also struggle with the pedestal thing, I have a number of times put people on a pedestal and ended up with utterly unrealistic expectations of them. It’s good to be aware of this and remember the “feet of clay” thing.

    Hope that whatever is causing this tiredness and pain is something treatable. Keep pacing yourself in the meantime. I’ve found having a hobby/something low energy to occupy myself is invaluable in helping me cope so might be worth considering? A craft or something?

  • Thank you for these thoughtful words. I do agree with you. Currently I am on a pilgrimage to Santiago in Spain, I have been walking for over 8 weeks and have covered over 1500 kms. I have met so many lovely people from very different walks of life and of different faiths and different reasons for doing the Camino. However, we are all the same and we all appreciate the simplicity of the life we are currently living, sleep, eat, walk and carry everything we need on our backs. I hope that we will each go back and transmit some of our experiences to those we know at home. If only we could all live our lives like those walking the Camino the world would be a better place. Why not try it, I think you would find it a good experience. See my blog at brianrndavidson.blogspot.co.uk

  • I sometimes feel like im floundering Catherine.and cant stop thinking how lazy i am its a bit of a vicious circle because in obviously low in mood then the disbelief comes about whether you are ill and then the despair comes which drives u to madness. Your breaking so many stigmas by writing this blog its inspirational.x

  • Thank you for writing this and for sharing your journey, it’s been a relief since reading your interview in Magnify a few years back. I’ve felt like I’ve failed a lot and never looked into my physical and mental health until my body and life forced me to. Tonight at dinner two friends reassured me, listened to me share the highs & lows of anxiety, depression and my faith – and then mentioned your seminar at the Leadership Conference & your blog too. Thank you for being Salt & Light

    • Thanks! I’m glad it has helped. Sorry I took a while to approve, I have been locked out of the site…

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