It’s natural for all of us to focus on finding our place and role in this world. We each have a part to play. Our society, our mentors, our families all seem to have expectations for what we can and should contribute. So we make up a definition of success and striving to attain it becomes our focus. There’s nothing wrong with accomplishing great things or earning accolades, but I’m realizing that living for these things doesn’t add up to living well. We might hit the target we’ve set for ourselves, or that others set for us, but are we truly fulfilled by it? The target seems to be ever shifting and elusive. Haven’t we all set out to accomplish a goal, finally succeeded, felt an exhilarating high for a couple of days, and then said, “Huh, now what?”
The high doesn’t last. The praise of others doesn’t last either. They applaud for a moment, then get on with their lives. We then assume we didn’t have our target set quite right, and we need to aim a little higher to truly be “successful” and fulfilled. We rarely stop to ask ourselves why we think we have the authority to define success in the first place. We just assume that we need to, or in some cases the definition of success seems set by our culture and we feel powerless to change it.
A few years ago when I was in the deepest, darkest days of battling my chronic illness, I felt called to write a book about the beauty God had brought out of the ashes of my suffering. So naturally, I took that calling and proceeded to define what success of that calling should look like. I also promptly jumped into trying to figure out the “how-to” for writing a book and getting it published. You want to talk about being overwhelmed, try looking into publishing, book proposals, agents, editors, marketing, etc.! I got so intimidated and bogged down by it all! I couldn’t figure out how to structure my experiences into chapters in a way that would capture the interest of publishers and readers alike. In short, my inspiration didn’t fit well into the parameters I was trying to force it into, and it paralyzed my ability to move forward.
Now, a few years out, the passion and intensity of that calling has faded as I’ve enjoyed reprieve from suffering. I’ve gladly put distance between myself and the reality of what living every single day in a severely broken body was like. Yet I’ve wrestled with a lingering guilt that I never wrote that book. I feel as though I can’t move forward with other writing until I go back and check that box, but all of the same overwhelming roadblocks to that target have not changed. So on New Year’s Day I sat down with my journal and asked God if this is still something He wants me to do, or if I’m released from the calling. I told him how I feel stuck and shackled by the “shoulds”. Those “shoulds” encompass not just writing the book, but also finding “success” as a writer in general. It’s a common sentiment among writers to feel that getting published is necessary in order to really be able to call yourself a writer. We don’t really have any other credentialing that validates what we do in our culture. And we all want to be validated, don’t we? If we’re not, then we haven’t achieved success as we’ve defined it.
Over the last couple of years I’ve tried to figure this successful writer thing out. I’ve attended webinars by New York Times bestselling authors. I joined an online writing community. I listened to the advice of top gurus who all have achieved what I felt I needed to achieve to really meet my calling and have the impact God wanted me to have in this world.
As a writer, this is what you’re told…if you want to maximize your impact, you need to build your platform. A large platform will help you capture the interest of publishers. To build your platform you need to know and serve your audience. Write the content they want to read. Engage your audience through several social media outlets. Master the art of writing a book proposal. And the list goes on and on as we try to map out the pathway to “success”. None of these suggestions are bad in and of themselves, and in fact, some may very likely be necessary in order to be published. The problem is, none of this has ever really resonated with the calling that is deep in my heart, which is simply to share hope and encouragement through my story. Naturally, I do desire to have impact and to serve my readers well, but shifting my focus to how to achieve those goals leads to striving toward a target of my own making. I take that calling from God, and promptly get bogged down in doing it “right”.
In that early morning quiet on New Year’s Day, God answered my question about writing a book by showing me that success is not mine to define, it’s His. The following is an excerpt from that journal entry.
This is your journey and your history. You need to remember all I’ve done in your life. You need to remember where you came from, and how you struggled and grew. This battle was yours – for your benefit – your perseverance, character, and hope. You need to remember for you. Write about it for you. Write from that framework. That you’re doing this to commune with Me, to grow, to remember. Then it has value no matter who else it reaches. You write it for yourself, for our relationship, to bring glory to Me in your own heart. Then what you have created just for us, you can share with the world. When you remove the burdens and expectations of trying to meet some made up need in the world and plaguing yourself with questions of what “they” need, and what “they” want, and what “they” will buy, and what will help “them” grow, then you’re free to write the way I intended. Just between us. That’s where the power is.
Before journaling you read my words in Matthew 6:33 when I say, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” This is how it applies to your writing – seek Me with no agenda. Seek whatever I have. Seek your own growth in Me. When you write that way, and simply share it with the world, then all those other needs and wants of the world that paralyze your writing will automatically be taken care of as well. It’s not for them, but it will serve them all the same, and truly with even more power. It’s not fabricated to try to hit a target. It’s just authentic from the soul, and that’s what truly hits the target. So I want you to stop worrying about getting published, building a platform, or serving your audience. I want to be your only audience as you are writing. But then, as I direct, I want you to share these things written in private. Just put them out there as an act of obedience and praise, but return then to the secret place with Me. Don’t chase the end of the path where those words might land in the world. They are released. You release and then return (to Me). And so I will unleash my power through you. The impact you have ceased striving for will be given to you naturally. It will be a blessing, but it will no longer be your focus. If you seek a specific end result – impact, platform reach, publishing, etc., then your eyes have shifted to be wholly focused on a goal that will shift and move and never fully satisfy. When your focus is on remaining in Me, obedience, sharing hope, and praising Me publically in writing, then the fulfillment and impact you crave will be truly fulfilled. Me at the center is where fulfillment comes. Not chasing an accomplishment. So now you’re free. Vulnerable, yes, very much, but free of set expectations and the confines of serving others. You serve Me and through that they will be served. As you write your colitis journey, do it to remember, to praise, to commune with Me. Don’t do it to catch the eye of a publisher. Share your story with yourself. The part of you that has forgotten and will continue to forget.
So living well this year means drawing yourself into Me. Reviving your morning journaling times, but also taking the next step to share with the world what transpires between us, what I’m teaching you, how I’m growing you, what I’m laying on your heart. Just share with no expectations. You’re not striving for a reaction and response. When you dwell and remain in Me, My light will fill you and spill out. This is how you shine brighter than the dawn. This is how you live well. Be intentional. Days quickly pass. Don’t miss what I have for you by neglecting time with Me. Your fulfillment lies in this time. You cannot find it without it.
What definition of success have you been striving toward? Who defined success for you? Are the hoops you’re jumping through on your way to that target God ordained? Has He called you to them? I truly believe He is the ONLY one who has the authority to define success for each of us. It often won’t look the way we expect, or even the way our ego hopes it will. All of our definitions will look a little differently because all of our giftings and callings are a little bit different. But at the core, I believe our definition of true success is the same. To commune closely with God. To be grafted into Him. To remain in Him. And out of that closeness to be obedient as He calls us. Pastor Craig Groeschel said, “Obedience is ours, outcome is God’s.” For me, trying to figure out the outcome, stalled my obedience. We don’t need to define the outcome. We need to release the outcome to Him and focus on being obedient to what He calls us to do.
When we are faithful to living fully submitted to Him, using our gifts as He intended, then He is faithful to provide for us and to complete the good work He began in us when we were created. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in trying to figure out our calling that we lose sight of the One who is calling us. He calls us to love Him and to follow Him. And so, loving well and following well are the foundations for living well.
I pray for each and every one of us, myself included, that in this new year, we would return to loving and following God with renewed passion. That we would shift our focus from our own definitions of success and restore our focus back to the One who already has a perfect plan for our lives. And as we embrace His plan and release our own, I pray we’d experience the joy, fulfillment, and freedom of truly living well.