I have a problem, and it’s one I think is pretty common. I want to be successful. American society expects “success” – whatever that means. If you’re a businessman, you should be a successful one. If you’re a minister, you should be a successful one. If you’re a politician, be successful. If you’re a student, be successful.. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, be successful.
I agree with this – which is not the problem. As Shakespeare said, “Whate’er thou art, act well thy part.” Whatever I’m doing with my life, I see no reason I shouldn’t do it well. No, the problem is when the definition of “success” is an unattainable thing. A businessman is “successful” when he’s the CEO. A minister is “successful” when the entire neighborhood is in his congregation every Sunday, and knows the Bible backward and forward. A politician is “successful” when he has a 100% approval rating. A student is “successful” only with a 4.0, a scholarship, and an internship in Japan over the summer. A stay-at-home mom is “successful” when the homemade bread is cooling on the counters, the house is spotless, and the kids are all on the honor roll. And I am “successful” when my long-term goals are all on track, my short-term goals are being met, and I’ve got my to-do list done and then some.
Then comes the problem. The sudden realization: I’m not perfect. Oh, no. This won’t do. Here – try this – it might make me perfect. Oh, no. That didn’t work either. Now what do I do?
I just graduated from a prestigious university, got a high-paying job, and married the love of my life. I have free time for the first time in nearly a decade. And I just went through a two-week-long existential crisis because I haven’t published a book or mastered Spanish or learned to play the ukulele or convinced our landlord to hurry about that new oven. That’s the problem. I suddenly got some free time and thought to myself, “Great! I can get loads of stuff done!” and wrote myself an impossible mental “to-do” list, a list full of crazy goals that would somehow make me more “successful” now that I have the time to devote to them. And then I broke down crying in a roller-skating rink when I suddenly realized I wasn’t checking everything off that list. What?
So I’ve been trying to get rid of the “to-do” list. I shouldn’t measure myself, because God loves me no matter what, right? But that’s hard to do. Human beings have a natural drive to progress – to “succeed”. I’ve found myself deliberately avoiding things I wanted to do in my free time, just because I was afraid I might fail and then judge myself for it. So I have goals I still want to accomplish, but I’m afraid to make goals for fear I’ll blame myself if I don’t reach them right on schedule.
Today, Ethan pointed out that without failure, we never learn. We never heal until we hurt ourselves. Christ didn’t die for our sins just so He could hold our shortcomings over our heads. C.S. Lewis once said, “When we fail to forgive ourselves when God has forgiven us, then we make ourselves a higher judge than God.” So who do we think we are, exactly? We think we know exactly what we should and shouldn’t be accomplishing, and exactly how much we’re worth. And then we run, screaming “I’m not good enough! Waaah!” And then God picks us up, dusts us off, calls the waaah-mbulance, and reminds us that we don’t have to get the dishes done or create beautiful oil-paintings or learn Navajo to earn His love and respect. We’re His children -we’re good enough.
At Ethan’s suggestion, I’m resurrecting an old idea. This week, I’m not making a “to-do” list. I’m making a “to-be” list. Every day, I’m going to decide on a phrase that decides the kind of person I want to be. (In the past, I’ve used “patient,” “happy,” “kind to others,” and “observant,” among other terms.) And every day, I’m going to focus on being that kind of person. I won’t be perfect. That’s what repentance is for. And if I still want to learn Spanish on the side, that’s fine – as long as I remember that the point is to become more understanding, not perfectly fluent.
I’ve spent enough time working my butt off for impossible goals. It’s time I started changing to become a better person. I’ll probably have to change about every ten minutes – but at least I’ll be closer every time. ♥