Define Success

So in the past several years I have worked in churches, schools, and non-profit jobs and there has been a common question in all of these fields: how do you define success?

Frequently this question is attached to a funding request like, “How will you define success for this program?” Honestly it’s a great question. How do we know when we’re doing he thing we’re called to do well or in the right way, but I always struggle to find an answer, especially in the Church.

Today is the feast of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and I think if we asked her to define a successful church program, beyond the bewildered look of a first century Galilean Jew about what a church program is, I think she would point us to the fact that by every worldly measure she and her son were failures.

A young, unwed mother says that she’s having a child by the Holy Spirit strains the audience’s patience. This child then grows up to be a religious zealot and a to be executed by the state for rebelling against the empire and being called messiah and king by some of his followers. Classic failure in Roman times. Then his small movement fails to convert their own people and nation to the cause of Christ. Not a great track record.

So what can we learn from Mary about success and how to define it? I think she would agree with the definition I heard from John Green recently that success is measured by “what did I learn and who did it help?” What have we learned from Jesus? from Mary? from all our ancestors in the faith? Whom have we helped?

I think that Mary would call us to work for the success and to live like her beloved son, trusting in God, following his teaching, living for God and each other. She would remind us that when following the Way, whether it leads to success or failure, God vindicates those who walk by faith. As Paul put it, “for in Christ, every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes’.” (2 Cor 1.20) God will redeem all our efforts made in faith and love.

Thanks be to God for Mary, Jesus’ mother, and for her lessons in success.

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