More Success(ful) Questions

I don't think we spend enough time asking ourselves questions.  So often we're out of balance simply because we haven't taken the time to deeply reflect.  Use these questions today as a guide in re-thinking success and the role it has played in your life.

 

Do you live as if you value what you say you value?  Do you prioritize it?

 

Consider character.

 

Do you consider the development of character a success?  When you react to a difficult situation with grace when you've had a lifetime of reacting, well, poorly, do you think of that as success?

 

When you have something difficult to discuss with a close friend or family member and you pause to prepare, plan your speech, and speak your truth calmly and clearly, do you consider yourself a success?

 

You should.

 

Success(ful) Questions to Wrestle With

I don't think we spend enough time asking ourselves questions.  So often we're out of balance simply because we haven't taken the time to deeply reflect.  Use these questions today as a guide in re-thinking success and the role it has played in your life.

 

What do you value?

 

Do you live as if you value what you say you value?  Do you prioritize it?

 

When you have to make a major life decision- do your values receive more emphasis than other factors on the pro's and con's list?

 

Consider community.

 

Do you consider how your family will be impacted?  Do you consider how your community will be impacted?  Do you seek feedback and, if so, do you take it seriously?  Do you pick up the phone and call someone when you feel yourself trending towards isolation?

 

If you do, that is success.

 

Success can look a million different ways

What else can success look like?

 

It depends.  It can look like a million different things.  It doesn't have to have anything to do with money.  I used the example yesterday as a demonstration of a person who represents non-dualistic success.  He earns a lot of money, but his money does not define his life. He uses it, not the other way around.

 

I've known people who are incredibly greedy who make middle class money.  I've known people who make upper class money who give, and give, and give, and give.  The important thing to remember is that a person's financial success, or their prestige, does not tell us anything substantive about that person.

 

People with money are not people to imitate simply because they have money.  But, if they demonstrate a certain kind of character with how they use their money, then there is something there worth paying attention to.  So often we elevate people in our minds simply because we know they do well in their career. We need to dig a little deeper in our evaluations because we need to be discerning about who we idolize and, at the same time, because we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

Do not become trapped in thinking that success can only look one way for you.  If that singular vision does not come to fruition, we will struggle to see ourselves as anything but a failure.  Successful living is so much more than whether or not we accomplished one particular dream or one particular goal.  It is about the various ways in which we pursue our certain way of seeing.  

While individual goals may be thwarted and individual dreams may die, these things cannot stand in our way of living out our core values.  

 

Unified Living

From yesterday:  Success is a matter of consistently living in accordance with our values, our certain way of seeing.  It is about creating a life that fosters our ability to do that consistently. And, then, it is about allowing ourselves to be affected by those around us such that we're interested in helping them create meaning in their lives.

 

Yesterday I wrote about what success looks like for one of my best friends.  He has so cultivated the art of service and self-sacrifice that he is not overcome by the wealth and prestige he has acquired.  For him, they are merely tools to be relied on when the situation calls for it.

 

In order to follow his example, we may need to temper our own ambitions, goals, and desires from time to time.  He lives a unified life and so his ambition does not overtake his vision for life. He does not let one area (work) dominate others.  He is unified in terms of his pursuit of his purpose- his call to love God and others. It is because of this that his work, his wealth and prestige, can be tools, rather than "meaning makers."

 

And this is another lesson I learn from him: success is about a unified life, trying as much as we can to live without cognitive dissonance.  Meaning, we live consistently. For instance, his work life is such that it could easily become all about the status and the money if he allowed it.  He could work harder for longer and become singularly focused on his work, casting friends and family aside. But, should he do this, he's no longer living in accordance with the certain way of seeing that tells him his call is to be a living reflection of God's values.  So, in this hypothetical, he would have tremendous cognitive dissonance. His actual lived experience would be incommensurate with his belief system. That's a recipe for disaster.

 

Success: A Practical Example

Success, from the standpoint of faith, means learning to accept this new version of the self that God is trying to offer.  We learn to prioritize grace, mercy, forgiveness, love, gentleness, patience, and so on, because there is no more worthy calling than to point, in small, humble ways, to the new, hopeful reality God brings to the world.

 

Time for the practical.  I promised nine days of theorizing.  You got ten days. Now, we move on.

 

What does all this nonsense actually look like?

 

Perhaps we should work with examples.

 

We talked early on about the importance of refusing to limit our understanding of success to wealth and prestige.  But, there is no need to be completely dualistic in our approach. One of the most successful (in all ways) people I know is one of my best friends.  In fact, he is Norah's godfather. He has wealth and prestige in his field- but he has not let these things define him.

 

He is an attentive and supportive husband.  A concerned and present father. A generous giver of his time and resources.  He is always the first person to reach out and check on me when things have gone wrong- he practices the power of presence.

 

His wealth and prestige do not make him a successful person- but because he has them he is able to lean into his generosity in ways that someone less wealthy cannot.  In other words, he uses his achievement to build up those around him. This is a key point.  

Let's be clear- you do not need to have achieved great things in order to offer dignity and respect to everyone you meet.  His achievement does not make him "better" equipped to become a successful human and, in fact, it may get in a person's way.  After all, becoming wealthy and prestigious brings with it huge temptation with the strong potential to lead a person down a very dark path.  He's been able to resist that temptation and become a successful human being in spite of its presence in his life.  

 

Success is a matter of consistently living in accordance with our values, our certain way of seeing.  It is about creating a life that fosters our ability to do that consistently. And, then, it is about allowing ourselves to be affected by those around us such that we're interested in helping them create meaning in their lives.  

 

It is my friend's ability to do each of these things that makes him the success that he is.

 

Success and meaning

Where does meaning come from?

 

It depends.  Some of the factors that contribute to the meaning in our lives are generalizable- they are the same for everyone.  Some of the factors are specific to your personality.  Some are specific to your interests.  Meaning is the product of a confluence of factors from basic human needs (love, connection) to hobbies and interests.  The launching point, though, is our submission to a power greater than ourselves. 

 

Submitting to the God of our understanding (for us at NSC, the God of the Bible), orients us.  God, as the giver of all good gifts, offers us a new self and works on our behalf to conform us to his image such that our lives are not defined by their "successes" or "failures" (as our culture sees them) but by our dedication to reflecting his love to the world around us.  (Side note: I know plenty of us do not feel we are particularly dedicated to this.  I do not say this so that we can shame ourselves for how we fall short of this goal- the simple art of trying to live into being a person crafted in God's image is the goal- not becoming a "perfect" person.) 

 

Success, from the standpoint of faith, means learning to accept this new version of the self that God is trying to offer.  We learn to prioritize grace, mercy, forgiveness, love, gentleness, patience, and so on, because there is no more worthy calling than to point, in small, humble ways, to the new, hopeful reality God brings to the world. 

Successful living

Click here if you need to get caught up.

Successful living, becoming a successful human being, is a matter of pursuing meaning.  It's important that we clarify what we mean by this.  Drawing on yesterday, pursuing meaning is not a matter of chasing "good feels" in life.  It's a matter of crafting a life which supports our intention to live out of our certain way of seeing (our faith, our guiding principles). 

 

If we're not paying attention, we may choose directions in life that make it more difficult to live out of our certain way of seeing than others.  For instance, if you are overworked and under-compensated in a job you hate then you will undoubtedly find it more difficult to reflect God's grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love in your various spheres of influence.  Why?  Because you're living on the edge.  When we live on the edge, we're living without a safety net (in a bad way).  We have no margin for error.  Our filters that may prevent us from going completely off the rails are compromised.  We have no "immune system," so to speak. 

 

And so, as you think about the way in which your life is crafted, one question to consider is:  Are the various elements in my life supporting my way of seeing? 

 

The beauty of approaching "success" this way is that it allows a lot of flexibility in how we apply it to our lives.  The down side is, we have to be intentional...perhaps annoyingly so.

 

More to come tomorrow.

Loving as yourself

I began this series of devotionals with these questions:  If we have an ounce of love for “other” in us, or if one single human being on this planet loves us - this is the million dollar question.  What do the people we love NEED? What do we NEED? How can we help? Who can help us?

 

 

EVENTUALLY I got around to whipping out this series of verses:  

34 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they met together. 35 One of them, a legal expert, tested him. 36 “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. 38  This is the first and greatest commandment. 39  And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 40  All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”  
~ Matthew 22:34-40 CEB

Today, let’s break it down.  When it comes to being a person whose presence matters AND a person who lives life with the quiet joy of satisfaction because life has meaning and purpose, there is no greater (albeit commonly repeated) passage of scripture than the one above.  Along the way, like Pete, we will have ups and downs and trials and tribulations, even some victories along the way as we both give and receive love.

Previous devotionals made a case for presence, specifically compassionate presence, as a key ingredient to this way of living.  But don’t we have PLENTY of examples of big fails in this area? I do!

So what gives?  What needs to change?  Haven’t we all attempted to improve our capacity to love and be loved?  I bet so. Tomorrow we pray for our collective loving selves, next week, we get into the nitty gritty details of loving well.

For today, think about the reality that we love in three arenas here on planet earth:  1. The way we love ourselves (if that freaks you out, substitute the word “respect”), 2. The way we love those closest to us (our most intimate connections) and 3. The way we love our communities (work/faith group/family/friends/common interest groups/neighbors).  

Obviously, the Matthew passage tells us that it all starts with loving God.  It even tells us how: we are to love God wholeheartedly - i.e., with our entire being.  Wholehearted loving makes it possible, even likely, that we will notice opportunities to love that will be overlooked by the casual lover.  Like the two friends who knew to contact Pete with condolences after UVA’s first round loss in the NCAA’s. This is our love source.

This is the source for the help we need to figure out how to love.  More on that in two days...tomorrow, as promised we pray for one another!

 

Compassionate Presence

My husband Pete and I attended the University of Virginia back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.  We have followed their sports teams with great patience and allegiance for decades. Virginia’s first round loss in the 2018 NCAA Tournament was, without question, the most heartbreaking defeat for us as fans in our UVA sports loving lives.

 

 

The sports commentators were brutal; some of our friends who cheer for OTHER teams were quick to poke fun and rub the defeat into the gaping wound.  I am sure no harm was intended; I am positive no one intended for us to take it personally.

 

However, the experience paired with my current passion project as a pastor (What does it mean to be transformed?) really was a punch in the gut.  Certainly the wins and losses of a sports team are not necessarily the expected venue for sacred space. Sports have their place in the world and to give them too much importance is just silly.  

 

But I am struggling with a larger point that goes something like this…  In both small and large ways we continue to show people who we are - for better and for worse. In the smallest of moments, our compassionate presence might make a big difference.  I might feel bad about this tendency to see everything through the lens of spiritual transformation, except Jesus had a bad habit of doing the exact same thing!

 

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus said this:  

34 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they met together. 35 One of them, a legal expert, tested him. 36 “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. 38  This is the first and greatest commandment. 39  And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 40  All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”  

~ Matthew 22:34-40 CEB

Heard it a million times, right?  Age old wisdom, right? My question is this:  if we know these verses so well, why do we continue to be so absolutely lousy at living them?  Or is it just me?

 

By mid-morning of the UVA debacle, Pete had received one phone call and one email from two people who, shall we say, do not usually pull for UVA.  Both expressed their sympathy for the loss of the team. Their tone seemed genuine. I would suggest to you that this was a sacred act of compassionate presence.   How did these two friends know to do this lovely thing? I think they are living a Matthew 22 kind of life. What makes their acts of kindness - which I suspect both think was no big deal - so amazing?  Because so few of us have what it takes to show up with compassionate presence. I’d further suggest that it is not rocket science, this act of showing up, so I wonder, why is it so difficult?

 

More on loving well and our struggles to do so tomorrow.

 

Going Rogue

The first relationship story in the scriptures involves the nasty fruit tasting incident on the part of Eve and her accomplice Adam.  They break the one “rule” God gave them, “Do not eat from this tree.” God, who has been enjoying evening strolls with them in the Garden of Eden; he expresses his feelings about this incident and relocates them outside the Garden.

 

 

This sounds like being cast out; maybe even harsh.  But if we keep reading we realize that God goes with them.  He neither leaves them nor forsakes them AND he also takes seriously their transgression.  

 

Presence matters; God models it.

 

Relationships are certainly complicated.  Radical love is not intended to be misinterpreted as relational free-for-alls. When there are no consequences, and “It’s all good…” is the chant of the tribe, something is amiss.  

 

But because we are not very good at the messy middle of relational snafus, we often take an extreme position:  either ignore the problem or jettison the relationship.

 

I do not believe we will ever experience life satisfaction apart from relational capacity.  We are created for tribe. For example, I do not believe that rising to the top of our respective professions (insert any life goal that you think you MUST achieve to have a life of meaning) will provide true fulfillment UNLESS we do so within the context of meaningful relationships.

 

Pete can wonder about his life’s purpose and Kim Scott can ask what her job description entails - but both are probably struggling with what it means to be fully present and engaged with life.  The details almost do not matter.

 

For today, ask yourself:  what side of the pendulum do you swing on?  Do you tolerate too much nonsense? Or do you leave relationships too quickly?  Why do you think this is your style of relating?

What's my job? Why am I here?

I would tell you that I am a person no longer shocked by human behavior but that would be a lie.  I am REGULARLY shocked; I just hate to admit it. Case in point: A few years ago Pete and I headed to California for a conference hosted by the National Association for Christian Recovery (I serve as its Executive Director).  

 

 

He seemed extremely quiet on the flight out, which is often difficult to notice because he is by nature extremely quiet.  He’s also hard working, faithful, kind and never curses. I often wonder if his mother knew that the name “Peter” stood for “rock” when she named him, and if so, was she a witch?  How did she know that he was going to grow into his name? He is truly a rock for many people in that quiet solid rock kind of way that is often overlooked but also over-utilized in times of crisis.  He’s pretty much awesome. He is smarter than me, wins at most games no matter the level of competition and has a voracious appetite and memory for all sports statistics as well as bible references. He’s a walking encyclopedia with a great forehand and a mediocre serve in tennis, my favorite sport to suffer the humiliation of defeat.  

 

Because he seemed withdrawn, not just quiet on the flight to Pasadena, I asked, not really expecting much of a response, “Is something wrong?”  This is a question I have asked over the decades of our marriage and NEVER gotten much of response back, other than, “Why do you ask? I am fine.”  [I am a rock.]

 

But on this day, he said, “I feel like I have wasted my life.”  I was tempted to laugh. I honestly thought the dude was joking.  Because if you have ever met a guy who does not waste time, money, resources or words - this is that guy.  No problem is left dangling - he solves them. No need goes unaddressed, he tries to meet them.

 

This is a problem.  If Pete McBean feels like he has wasted anything, including his life, I may as well end all now and deplane via the exit door while at cruising altitude over the Rockies.  Instead, I press for answers and he has none. I wonder what he might need. Prozac? A good night’s sleep? A pep talk?

 

If we have an ounce of love for “other” in us, or if one single human being on this planet loves us - this is the million dollar question.  What do the people we love NEED? What do we NEED? How can we help? Who can help us?

 

Let’s explore this topic by answering this question:  who do you think has the biggest need that you love in this moment?  “Other” or you? Maybe write that name down and let’s see if any of the things we talk about in the next few days informs your next right steps.