Measuring Success and Failure (guest post by my wife)

How do we measure success and failure? Grades A, B, C, D or F? Pass/fail. High scores on video games? The bigger number on a scoreboard at a sporting event? What about college entrance exam scores, admissions to prestigious universities. Am I successful if I have a lot of stuff?  A lot of money? The list goes on and on. How is success or failure measured in relationships? Is it as simple as good or bad? Is it based on how much contention, or how little contention? Divorce? Respect? Love? Do positive emotions have to be reciprocal to be considered a success? Does any of this resonate? How do we measure success as a parent? Successful children? What does that look like? Is there a reasonable measurement? Is it the same for everyone? Is there such a thing as religious success or failure? How would I be able to tell? Can someone measure it for me? Can I measure it for you? Can it be measured now, or do I have to wait until I die? Will “judgment day” show my success or failure?

What are some other words for success: victory, attainment, realization, achievement, happiness, ascendancy. Other words for failure: misstep, deficiency, breakdown, collapse, bungle, prodigal.

We have a saying in my family. It goes something like this, “Can I give you a compliment? You’re doing it wrong?” I think we are doing it wrong. I think success is most usefully measured by our attempts, our diligence, our efforts, our perseverance, our struggles, our missteps (don’t call them failures), our earnestness, and our sincere desires to self-actualize – which is just fancy speak for the drive we all have to develop our talents and work towards our greatest potential. Relationship success can be correlated to Aristotle’s concept of eudaimonia – fancy speak for flourishing, or constantly moving upwards in our levels of fulfillment and expressiveness within our relationships.

I think the foregoing explanations are lead-ins to what might be a successful religious person. Someone who desires to follow God. A person who selflessly serves. A mother who sacrifices. A man who seeks to lay up heavenly treasures instead of earthly treasures. People who use their gifts and talents to build God’s Kingdom on the Earth. This is the same as self-actualization and eudaimonia expanded out to our spiritual and religious impulses. There are no person-to-person comparisons. My endeavors or expectations will probably be different than everyone else. If I am looking to others for my measure, I will likely always “fail,” and worse, because of the distraction, I will miss out on how I might actually realize my highest religious ideals. I am unaware of any good achievement markers for any of these areas. It is never based on: What can I GET? What can I POSSESS?

Stop it! Stop looking at your efforts in terms of success or failure. Stop comparing your outcomes with other people. Stop imposing on yourself unrealistic expectations of what achievements represent success or failure. More importantly, spend time contemplating how God looks at our efforts. How is God speaking to you about your struggles, your associations, your investment in the Godly? Your life is a gift from Him. Is your life pleasing for heaven to watch? God is paying attention, and you are briefly on-stage. How do you want your hour to be remembered by God and by you? Are you pursuing your best self in all aspects of your life? Will you be ready to hear, “Well done thou good and faithful servant,” regardless of your “successes” or “failures?”