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What Is Success?

I have wrestled with the idea of success since I was a teenager. Being a straight-A student, scholar athlete, and a good Christian girl who, most of the time, did what was expected of me didn’t alleviate my struggle.

In high school, success centered around grades, athletic achievements, leadership potential, test scores, and getting accepted into the best colleges.

Twenty years later, I’m still filled with doubts and questions, though the context is different.

Am I doing a good enough job as a mom?

Why can’t I be more on top of things with my kids’ schooling?

Why am I always falling behind on housework?

When and how will I get my books published?

Have I taken on too much work, or do I need to do more?

When, if ever, will I feel like I have achieved success? 

The fact is, most days, I feel like I’m falling short in so many areas. I don’t measure up to the other moms who appear to have it all together or to the incredible writers with large platforms and significant book sales. 

But maybe I’m focusing on an insufficient idea of success.

When I was a teenager, I came to a conclusion that helped me cope with the pressures I felt then. I wrote it down and brought it with me to every new place I lived. Sometimes I hung it on the wall where I could see it and remember:

My Goal in Life

"Every thought focused on You

Thoughts of the World are very few

Doing Your will every step of the way

Obeying Your commands day by day

Listening to Your still, quiet voice

Leading a life that is of Your choice

Putting away any desires of my own

That the light of Your love, through me, may be shown." 

At some point in the last ten years, I forgot these goals and shoved them into a folder with other past writings. 

When my editors suggested I write an article about success, I froze. We’re talking about two months of writer's block and feeling like a failure who was letting everyone down by not knowing or feeling adequate enough to write about success. But each time I considered giving up, emailing them, and asking for a different topic, something prevented me from doing so.

“Just write,” the Holy Spirit prompted. “Write about your questions, feelings, and struggles. Write about what you’re learning.”

So, in the midst of my insecurities, here is what God has been teaching me:

1. A Desperate Heart

Success is a heart that so desperately wants the spiritual things of God that it’s willing to hold on until it gets them. 

The story of Jacob in the Bible (Genesis 25-35) is filled with dysfunctional relationships and deceit and reveals a man who desperately wants God’s presence and blessings in his life. Although Jacob sinned and made some poor choices, he never stopped wanting God’s best.

When Jacob was scared and alone on the night before meeting the brother he’d tricked so many years before, God appeared to him in the form of a man, and they wrestled until dawn. Jacob refused to let the man go until he blessed him. 

At last, the man said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28, NASB).

God’s people later became known as the Israelites – those who persevere with God and men for the spiritual life of God, and they succeed. 

We can’t fail if we are continuing to desire God’s heart and will for our lives. 

2. A Healthy Understanding of the Past

Success doesn’t allow the past to prevent forward movement. 

“Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead...” (Philippians 3:13, NASB).

The Apostle Paul is another leader in the Bible who made bad mistakes before God got a hold of him, including putting Christians in jail and overseeing their executions. Although Paul could have allowed his past sins to hold him back in shame and guilt, he chose to move beyond them in his pursuit of God’s calling. He knew he’d repented and that God had forgiven him. This gave him the confidence to continue sharing God’s love and leading God’s people.

I hate having to discipline my kids and feel terrible when I do. Far more often than I’d like, I respond out of sin and selfishness and feel even worse. It’s easy in those times to want to wallow in how badly I feel I’m doing as a mother. But, according to this definition, mistakes I make as a parent don’t disqualify me. I can always repent, model for my kids what it looks like to apologize, take ownership of my behavior, and move forward in grace with my relationships with God and my family.  

3. Respecting the Process

Success is an ongoing journey, not a destination.

“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14, NASB).

While we may arrive at wonderful milestones along the way, success isn’t a one-time, been-there, done-that achievement. Rather, it’s a continual moment-by-moment decision to seek God.

4. Placing God First

Success is doing everything we do for the Lord. 

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Colossians 3:23-24, NASB).

Although I’m serving my kids and my husband by taking care of them and the house, the person I’m truly serving is God. This elevates mundane tasks to being ones of spiritual importance and brings success to everything I do.

When I’m writing for the Lord, success isn’t defined by how many people see or approve of my work. The act itself is a success. Obedience to what God has called us to do is success. It’s a moment-to-moment, day-to-day journey of seeking God’s heart and will, regardless of how many times we stumble.   

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Chinnapong

Jenny Fulton is a wife, mother, writer, and member of Wholly Loved Ministries who enjoys studying God’s Word and sharing what she has learned with others. She is the author of Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Goodbye, A Princess’ Guide to the Alphabet, and Striving for Unity: a Study on 1 Corinthians (upcoming release). An enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, Jenny developed a keen interest in language and cultures. In 2007, she graduated from Grace University with a B.S. in Bible, a B.S. in elementary education, and an endorsement in K-12 ESL. For the next seven years, Jenny worked as a teacher in a variety of cultural and educational settings, both abroad and in the United States. Her days are now spent raising her three young daughters and writing as much as time and opportunity allows.

 

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