Fear of Success

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There’s a Calvin and Hobes comic that comes to mind for me every now and again, but I’m worried about copyright issues so I won’t post it here. In the strip, a few inches of snow has fallen in the front lawn of Calvin’s house. Just outside, the driveway and sidewalk are both cleared, save for a mountain of snow on each blocking any possible pathway. Calvin proudly looks at Hobes, his snow shovel draped over his shoulder, as he says “If you do the job badly enough, sometimes you don’t get asked to do it again.”

I shudder to think how many times that has been consciously or unconsciously true in my life. Is it true that I would likely reduce our laundry to mere shreds of fabric were I entrusted with the operation of the washing machine? Probably not, but let’s let that assumption stand. Could I absolutely master the art of loading the dishwasher? Yes, but who needs that hassle? If word gets out that I am awful at these things, it’s just become clear that I won’t have to do them any more.

While these domestic examples are humorous (well, to everyone except my wife who I’m reasonably sure is my only reader…sorry love!), I think they point to a deeper fear for some of us. Sometimes our success actually leads to more work, more hassle, more difficulty. If you are a business owner, and you find yourself running an extremely successful business, you will likely have more mouths to feed, paychecks to sign, dollars to spend, hours to work. And so for not a few of us, I think that success can be as crippling a fear as failure might be.

Sadly, I know this is true in the church. Sometimes folks come in who hide their gifts and abilities, because they are quite sure that if word gets out that they’re good at origami or something that the church will somehow appoint them the head of the origami committee, which meets bi-weekly for two hours. And the reason some folks are afraid of that is because they’ve been at churches in their past that have done exactly that. If it’s true that 80% of the work gets done by 20% of the people, then that means that 20% of the people are really tired at least 80% of the time.

So perhaps what’s required here is a definition of success. What makes a person successful, and why is it that sometimes this leads to fear? I mean yes, if success means more work, more burden, or even more time in the spotlight, someone who is introverted or worn out would likely fear that kind of success. But if success meant joy, or peace, or happiness, would that subtle change in definition change things? For that matter, no matter how we defined success, how would God define success? Not just in the “God loves everybody, so you’re good where you are” way, though that’s certainly true. I’m more interested in what God would say a successful business would look like. I’m curious what God’s yardstick of success would be for those of us who are parents. I wonder what success would be in our normal, everyday comings and goings in God’s eyes?

Wonder no more! It’s cliche, and used a lot, but I think it holds a great deal of truth for us in this context. God has told us exactly what success looks like. “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Can you say that you run a business based in justice? That’s a success. Are your kids raised with kindness, taught the ways of generosity? That’s a success. Do you deal primarily with mercy, offering forgiveness to those who have wronged you? You’re the most likely to succeed.

Truth be told, I bet we are way harder on ourselves than God is or ever was on us. I bet our yardstick for success can be daunting, crippling, or even downright terrifying. But God’s desire for us seems to be to create a more kind, merciful, and just world. I bet we can get behind that, no matter how good we are at shoveling the sidewalk.

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