How often do we make regular choices that uplift a worldly narrative of success?
About a month before my wedding, I started to have dreams that I was dying. I called my sister who has a master’s degree in counseling and she assured me that it did not mean I had chosen the wrong life partner à la So I Married an Axe Murderer, but that people often dream of death when embarking on a radical life change. The death signifies the ending of one season and the start of something new. My psyche was mourning my singleness. But this death of my old life also brought great hope for what was to come. As I reflect on our current moment, I want us to dream of death again, in the hopes of resurrection. I believe we need to let die our notion of success in the church but especially in our lives.
Etymologically, the word “success” comes from the Latin successus, meaning an advance or ascent. One might visualize a mountain, perhaps utilizing the metaphor from David Brooks’s 2019 book, The Second Mountain, where one achieves personal and professional accolades and accomplishments. Brooks recalls with regret that this frenetic climb up that first mountain deformed him into “a certain sort of person: aloof, invulnerable and uncommunicative … I sidestepped the responsibilities of relationship.” This mountain of success is a lonely place. Victors of its summit include billionaires who indulge in space travel, but also pastors who build up their celebrity platforms, and any of us who define happiness by position, prestige, or power.
We might think that this is not like us: we do not pursue fame and riches. But how often do we make regular decisions and choices that uplift a worldly narrative of success? Do we push our children not to excel but to “get good grades?” …
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