Success started in the classroom. When I came home from school with certificates, it felt good. Throughout school I wanted to do well and was ready to take on whatever challenge I could academically. This desire to achieve continued through university where I graduated with a First Class honours degree. It felt like I could go anywhere and do anything – reaching for the stars and making all of my dreams and ambitions come true.
I thought success meant having a rewarding career with a good salary, buying a home, having a family and being able to afford holidays and nice clothes on a regular basis. If I could just get that, then I would have made it. None of those things are necessarily bad in themselves, but the Lord knew my heart and the motive was not for Him. Rather it was what everyone else was doing and I wanted what they were striving for.
I didn’t see how much of a grip that desire had on me until it was taken away bit by bit. I got married at the end of my final year of university and moved somewhere new where I became unemployed for nine months. It felt as if my success had been replaced by failure. Well-meaning people would ask me how the job-hunt was going or what I did for a living, and all I wanted to do was bury my head in the sand. My university phoned me six months after graduation to see if I’d found employment and I became the statistic I never thought I’d become – a graduate without a job.
Then there was motherhood. When I had my first child, it turned my world upside down in so many ways. It was no longer all about my plans (as if marriage wasn’t enough to learn that lesson!). My priorities shifted away from myself as the dynamic of the family changed once again. We made the decision that I would stay at home with our children which meant surrendering my plans for success to the Lord.
I don’t write that begrudgingly and I don’t resent staying home. But surrender is difficult, isn’t it? It’s something that we prayed about and know that this is where the Lord has led us for this season of life.
The desire to have the career, the house and the comfortable life has ebbed and flowed for me. It’s easy to desire what others have and when I look at their lives, I can start to sink like Peter did when he took His eyes off of Jesus.
Yet, my understanding of success is changing.
As I have gone through life making choices that would best suit my gravitation toward success, I have found it lacking. My hunger to achieve and be seen as successful has fallen short, not because I could not attain what the world says I should, but because it misses the only thing that can fulfil that desire – Christ Himself.
Our well-formulated plans can look vastly different to the ones that God has purposed for us. Proverbs 16:9 (ESV) says, ‘The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.’ The steps I am now taking look different from the surrounding culture. The pressure and expectation to do what others are doing is alluring, but it is only through prayer, reading God’s Word and trusting in Him alone that I keep putting one step in front of the other in obedience. I’m not trying to say that everyone else is getting it wrong or that it is easy, but for followers of Christ, seeking Him and His kingdom above all else is paramount and that will play out differently in all of our lives.
Noah was given a task by God of building an ark when it was not raining to preserve him and his family from a flood that God would send upon the earth. He trusted God by faith and obedience when everyone else was ‘eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that [he] entered the ark’ (Matthew 24:38 NKJV). To have faith like Noah is something to aspire to. In Hebrews 11:7 (NIV) it says ‘By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family’. That holy fear is what I want to have more of. It might look easier to to do what everyone else is doing, but to live with a reverent awe for and a confident hope in the Lord for things not yet seen is real faith (Hebrews 11:1 NIV). This is commendable and a true marker of real success.
As I have journeyed with the Lord through university, unemployment and becoming a stay-at-home mum, it has been a refining process. It’s not about what we do, but all that He has done for us. It’s all for His glory and not our own. Let’s not shy away from those areas in our lives which might appear weaker to the culture we find ourselves in. Let’s be a people who trust in Jesus implicitly, whether on stormy seas, dry ground or wherever and whatever He calls us to.