A few days ago, I was talking to my daughter who was upset because she hadn't lived up to her expectations in terms of marks in a certain subject. As teens, we tend to define ourselves and take pride in ourselves in the areas that we believe set us apart from others--we're prettier, we're smarter, we're more athletic, we're very social. Whatever it is, we like to have something to point to and say, "that is who I am."
Hopefully as adults we become more mature, and realize that our worth is not in our accomplishments. Realistically, though, that rarely happens. We still tend to judge ourselves by our successes. Have I landed a good job? Do I have a bunch of kids? Do I have a nice house? Are my kids in a good school? Am I in charge of a ministry at church? Do we make enough money? We judge ourselves by the standards that our society has set, which is completely counterproductive, let alone wrong.
Have you ever looked at the Israelites in the Old Testament and thought, "boy, were they ever stupid"? Look at them! God tells them to do something, they do it, and everything goes right. Then they start doing the opposite, and things go badly. So they pray, God rescues them, and then the whole cycle repeats. And one of the things that God was so adamant about was that they not worship idols. They had to keep all those wooden idols out of their homes. And I often think, "you saw God part the Red Sea. Why would you go back to wooden idols?"
Yet I'm not sure they always realized what they were doing. The idols were all around them, in the cultures that they lived. They were everywhere. And so they mixed worshiping idols with worshiping God. We may not have wooden idols in our homes, but our culture has idols, too, and we are letting those idols infiltrate our homes. We are letting those idols influence us, without realizing it, because it's all around us.
And those idols come from our consumer culture, saying things like, "You deserve to be happy". "You should be successful." "You should be wealthy and have lots of stuff." And we start to define our worth that way, even though we know that's not how God sees us. We start to judge our ministries by numbers, rather than remembering that God sees the heart, and may be doing something important just for the sake of 1. We judge our families by our retirement savings, or our house size. And it's one of the things that makes us work so hard, so that we can buy more stuff, rather than work less so that we can be with our families more.
A long time ago, when I was reading a bunch of entrepreneurial books in my twenties, I made a pledge to myself. I said, "by age 40, I will make $X a year." I had a goal.
In two weeks I'm going to be 40, and I'm nowhere near that figure. And for a while, a few years ago, when I saw that I wasn't going to make it, I felt badly, as if I had let down my dreams.
Yet since I made that pledge, I also decided to homeschool. I decided to write and speak as a ministry. I decided to spend a lot of time raising money for an orphanage in Kenya. It's pretty hard to start a new business and make the kind of money I wanted to make while you're doing all those other things.
And so I am approaching my birthday with peace. I haven't lived up to my dreams because God has put new dreams in me. We must stop judging ourselves by the wrong things. Your status doesn't matter. I know so many families where both parents work and make good money and they're still always worried about money. I know other families who live in large homes that are gorgeous, but their kids aren't really following Jesus because somehow or other, even though the parents believe, they stopped making their children's faith a priority, and their jobs and sports became the priority.
Success, you see, is not in what we have. It's not in how much money we make. As I said at the opening, success is letting God use what He has already given you. It's taking the gifts and the things that God has given you, and leaving them open for Him. It's saying, "my time today is yours, Lord. Show me how I should use it." It's saying, "I want to raise these kids for you, Lord, so show me how to be a good mother." It's not being worried about whether there is enough money to give them the best; it's being able to put your kids as one of your main priorities (behind your marriage) in terms of love and attention and time. That's what leads to real success.
I am often saddened when I look at the women in the church that I know who are tired. They're running around, trying to reach some goal that God never set for them, so that they can have what they're supposed to have in this culture. We buy into our culture's consumerism and we don't even see it. But the size of your wardrobe isn't important. The size of your house isn't important. It's whether you're taking the time to talk to God, to listen to God, and to let Him use what He has given you.
Everything you have is His. It doesn't belong to you. It comes from Him. If we honestly understood that, we'd worry less about money. We'd have less fear about our children. We'd stop trying to compulsively plan everything and we'd start praying more. We'd stop hoarding our time and hoarding our home and we'd have more people in for dinner, or more people in just to talk.
Those who may not have beautiful homes, and may not have huge incomes, but who love people and love their kids are very successful. Mother Theresa was successful, because she simply said, "Here I am, Lord. Use me." And God did. She had no money, but God multiplied her ministry.
If you're feeling aimless today, and tired, why not stop, take a deep breath, pull up a cup of hot chocolate, and just talk to God about your life? Ask Him to show you what He has already given you. Ask Him to help you make fewer "success" goals and more prayers. Ask Him to help you see the immense worth that you are to Him, and that your children are to Him, and that your husband is to Him. You are His success story. And you will make that story even better if you keep focused on sharing what God has already given you--in terms of grace, and love, and time, and even money--rather than on accumulating even more for yourself. Subscribe to To Love, Honor and Vacuum
In June, I'm planning on hosting "Use What You Have Month", to see if all of us can live without buying more stuff. It will be a week where we can focus on the abundance and creativity God has already given us, rather than turning to spending money, as out of habit. I think it will realign our priorities so that it's more about Him, and less about us. I'll tell you more about it soon, but I do hope you'll join me!