As an author, the desire for success is hard-wired into my efforts. I assume it’s the same for you. If we are going to work at something, we want to do well at it. Yet I know God will not measure my success in book sales. The only thing that ultimately matters is the extent that I love and serve God and that means loving and serving others. True spiritual success tempers worldly ambition.
If I had to choose between becoming a New York Times best-selling author but lose my soul, or to never get published but achieve great holiness, I would have to choose the latter. No doubt, it’s the same choice you would make. But what if instead of heaven and hell, the choice was between heaven and purgatory? Would you choose success in this world in exchange for delaying heaven? Please don’t tell me you are thinking it over.
Success is in the Eye of the Beholder
Some of the saints give us insight as to how to put God, work, and success into perspective.
“Don’t you long to shout to those youths who are bustling around you: Fools! Leave those worldly things that shackle the heart – and very often degrade it – leave all that and come with us in search of Love!” -St. Josemaria Escriva
“We can do no great things; only small things with great love.” -St. Teresa of Calcutta
“Let us go forward in peace, our eyes upon heaven, the only one goal of our labors.” -St. Therese of Lisieux
“Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” -St. Augustine
Consider the story from St. Faustina, the Polish nun and visionary who received the Divine Mercy devotion. She saw a priest obeying God on a task, but his efforts were failing. “Why are you letting him fail when he is doing what you want?” St. Faustina asked Jesus.
“Success in my eyes is not always success in man’s eyes,” Jesus responded.
The priest was succeeding. He was following Jesus. God will not judge us on how others respond to us but rather on the degree to which we follow him. Whether one is an artist, a furniture maker, an architect, or a full-time mother, there are always temptations to desire success in the eyes of the world rather than first and foremost seeking to serve God above all else.
Two people can be equally successful on the surface while one is all about the world and the other is all about God. Sometimes it’s about attitude and how things are done.
Here are some ideas for making success about God.
- Imagine being on your deathbed after having achieved great worldly success. How much will it matter at that moment?
- Make your work about serving others at every opportunity.
- Spend time before the Blessed Sacrament and focus on your relationship with Jesus. Time spent in union with God helps to put the world in perspective.
- Don’t compare yourself with people achieving more or less success. One leads to jealousy and envy and the other to pride. It’s between you and God, no one else.
- Pray before beginning, pray in thanksgiving at work well done, and pray for those who will benefit from your work.
- Pray for those who help you and pray for those who hinder you.
- Network with other serious Catholics in your field for support, perspective, and inspiration.
- Just as you celebrate your successes, celebrate your failures – or at least accept them. They hold lessons for holiness and learning.
- Help others. If helping someone else might create competition for you in some way, do it anyway and pray for his or her success. Your act of charity will bring you closer to God and protect you from selfish ambition while also trusting God with the outcome.
Seeking success is not a Catch-22, but rather, an exercise in walking the fine line God laid out for us.
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. So be as cunning as serpents and as innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16).
In other words, we need to know the rules of the game in order to succeed but our heart must remain innocent and focused on God.
Copyright 2018 Patti Maguire Armstrong