Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Success and Failure

For me, the hardest life lessons, the ones I have to learn and re-learn on a never-ending loop, are related to accomplishment. It's more nature than nurture – I believe I was born this way (but not on the right track, baby). Then my nature was cemented by the unavoidable consequences of being a firstborn, and being a gifted child who was constantly told by everyone that I would grow up to do Great Things. I can't think of all those teachers and well-meaning adults without cringing, because I always feel that I've let them down. Lately this feeling has inexplicably risen to a higher pitch. I don't want to hear about the fantastic accomplishments of regular people my age and younger, 20- and 30-somethings on the covers of magazines and in computer commercials, because it reminds me that I have no excuse. I was supposed to help cure cancer, or blaze a trail in some important leadership role, or at the very least have a book on a shelf at Barnes & Noble (because I was writing and illustrating even in elementary school). When I just focus in on my small life and achievements (some of which only God and I will ever fully appreciate), I feel pretty satisfied. Honestly, I don't even have a clear or permanent mental picture of Personal Success, and if I did, I already know I can never arrive at it because there will always be another hill to climb. But when I hold my current life up against those childhood expectations, against the lives of my peers, I feel like a massive failure.

Needless to say, this attitude bleeds into my spiritual life. If I listen to the message of failure long enough, my perception of God and His feelings toward me gets warped, which in turn affects everything else. Instead of resting and moving forward confidently in His love, I become frantic to compensate for all the ways I've failed Him (and my family and friends). The other day I found myself actually apologizing in prayer for not being the star I was supposed to be. In the next moment, my eyes were opened and I came back to earth. I realized that God has never asked me to achieve Great Things. I remembered that obstacles and bumps in the road are part of His plan, meant to direct us, help us grow and develop, and most of all, remind us that we're totally dependent on Him. Getting straight A's in life – sailing to the top as easily and perfectly as possible – is not the goal. That's the world's idea of success, but we're so saturated in it from birth that it's very hard to deprogram. It's so ridiculous to think that God would put difficulties in my path and then blame me for not rising above them adequately, but that's how I think sometimes.

But I digress. The point is, all this pressure is ultimately coming from me. If God wants me to climb higher, He'll light a fire under me and point the way. But maybe the purposes He has for me are small. Maybe I'll never work outside a cubicle or have a blog audience of more than a hundred people, and maybe that's exactly how things are supposed to be. I'm not going to stop working toward my goals, but it's time to stop beating my head against a brick wall about it. And a week or a month from now, when I forget this and start freaking out again, I can look at this post and remind myself of truth.

(Semi-)Related Reading/Listening:
To Be Told by Dan Allender
God Loves Ugly by Christa Black (release date: September)
Gifted Grownups: The Mixed Blessings of Extraordinary Potential by Marylou Kelly Streznewski
Sermon: I Peter 5:6-7
Sermon: Christ for Clunkers


  1. I'm a firstborn, too, and I can relate here to a lot of this. Thank you for your thoughts.

  2. I love that you linked to Christ for Clunkers! That has always been one of my fav sermons of his, and I saw he preached it Sunday!

    1. I've gone through most of the sermons on our website and Redeemer's, so a few months ago I wondered where Jean is these days and found his church site. Now I listen to his sermons too. :) That one is fantastic.

  3. I've decided that, if they are being honest, everyone feels this way. Some are just better than others at hiding it. Great post Brenz