The Measure of Success is Nebulous
Rector Chris Girata's latest article in the Katy Trail Weekly
Success is one of those nebulous ideas that most of us toss around, but few of us agree about how to define it. For most, I think we have some idea about success being based on financial wealth or security (or both), with some mix of power and authority. Perhaps we toss in a pinch of educational achievement or charisma. And if we’re truly well balanced, we throw in a small bit about faith and generosity to others — but let’s be honest, success is almost always measured by wealth and power.
In my line of work as a clergyperson, I spend time with people who are near death as well as with families who have lost a loved one. Death is the great equalizer — death comes for us all. Although all of us will die, I am acutely aware that, at times, not all of us live well. Over the years, I have participated in countless funeral services and watched even more families grieve. At a funeral, one thing comes into stark contrast: the true measure of success.
I’ve buried wealthy people and poor people, shy people and exuberant people, old people and young people, and every in between. There is a big difference between people who show up to a funeral out of duty or a sense of being polite, and those who show up because they truly loved the deceased and want to honor and love them one last time. You’ve seen it, I know you have. And I’m guessing that you, like me, hope to have more people show up to our funerals who truly loved us and felt loved by us, rather than those seeking to be polite.
American author Annie Dillard once wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” That simple idea seems blatantly obvious, yet measuring the use of our time can prove scary. Think about the time you have spent over the last week. Consider how many hours you slept, how many hours you worked, how many hours you sat in your car, and how many hours you spent with other people. Now take the total amount of time you spent with other people and subtract out all the time that was not high quality, connecting time. In the last week, the last 168 hours of your life, how many were spent generously focused on others?
Unfortunately, for most of us, the total time spent caring for and about others is a pathetic portion of our lifetime. I would be hard-pressed to find a single person who feels as though they have spent enough time showing love to those they love, and I count myself in that same number! Whether we find that we are sadly addicted to staring at our smartphones, or perhaps too highly committed to making more money, or don’t even have enough people in our lives to even care about, we are all falling short of the person we want to be.
Earlier this week, we celebrated Memorial Day, a day in which we remember those who gave their lives heroically for people they didn’t and would never know. Memorial Day is also the traditional beginning of summer, a period of time when life slows down a bit. Put those two moments together, and I want to invite you to consider two things: (1) who would you give your life for and (2) can you make a little more time, especially this summer, to deeply connect and love the most important people in your life?
We are all searching for meaning, searching to matter. Perhaps this is an opportunity for us all to take stock of what is more important to us and to begin to measure our success with more wisdom than we have before. People need people, and we are no different. This week, this season, open yourself up to adjusting the way you spend your days so that in the end, you will spend your life as you wanted: leaving a legacy of love as you go.
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