...How disaster, failure and loss changed my life.
I've always been a pretty open person. I find it fairly easy to talk about my emotions, and I am generally in touch with how I am feeling at a particular point in time. I also don't do small talk very well; I mostly find it all a bit meaningless. I would much rather be in an intense discussion about the meaning of life or the state of the world and what can be done about it.
So what does all this have to do with success? Well, it depends on what you mean by success. We generally think of it in terms of achievement, doing well and winning. But what I am referring to is our internal wellbeing, peace of mind and joy.
When you get to a certain point in life you can begin to see that the old things that carried you through in the past don't work anymore. Richard Rohr talks about the two halves of life. The first half of life is when we are trying to find our identity. Our focus at this time of life is often on success, winning and making money. Rohr makes the point that we need to go through these times in order to find who we are.
The second half of life is often thrust upon us through a major setback in our lives. It might be a divorce, a job loss or the death of a loved one. Tragedies like these can force us to re-evaluate what life is about. It is at these times that we often come to a crossroads; we either change course after seeing that our old way of living doesn't work anymore or we remain stuck and try to fight our way through by trying to achieve more success.
I heard someone say once that life is about how you deal with loss, ultimately to the loss of your life. All of us suffer, and if you haven't experienced any intense suffering in your life yet, chances are that you will. And when you do, let it change you; let it mould you into becoming a better person.
Jesus said that if anyone wants to come after him, they must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. In a very real sense, if we want life, we have to die before we die.
Most of the Bible was written in a context of suffering, and all of its great leaders went through some sort of wilderness experience. Jesus of course literally went through a wilderness experience, and the prophet Isaiah refers to him as a man of sorrows, familiar with grief.
In good company
We are in good company when we suffer. The suffering people in the Bible learned to depend on God for all they had. I am always moved by the passion with which the Psalmist writes that his soul longs after God just as the deer pants for the water.
Suffering can drive us to surrender, to realising that God is a God of grace. My life today is better than I could have imagined, not because of my circumstances but because I am slowly learning that the life I have always wanted is only found in surrender to God. Self-sufficiency doesn't work for me. It never has and it never will.
The worldly way of success is not what life is about. The church needs to hear this as much as anyone else. We have been seduced and duped by the lie that a consumerist attitude is the way to go. We talk about things like "believing for success" and God blessing us if we do certain things. When I see Jesus talking about blessing I hear him say "Blessed are the poor" and "blessed are those who mourn". If you are one of those people, it is you who is especially looked out for by God. By the world's (and much of the church's) standards of success, most of the great figures in the Bible were abject failures, including Jesus!
When I look at the apostle Paul, who was shipwrecked, beaten, imprisoned and lashed, I am inspired that he can say that he has learnt to be content whatever the circumstances. That is what I aspire to.
The times in my life when I have grown the most have been the hardest times, the times when circumstances didn't go my way, when I failed, when I was rejected, when what I had depended on was pulled out from under me. It is those times which have formed me.
Our greatest lessons in life are learnt not through our successes but through our failures. May that be the secret of your success.
Nils von Kalm is from Melbourne, Australia and has a passion for showing how the Gospel is relevant to life in the 21st century. He can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/nils.vonkalm and at http://nilsvonkalm.com
Nils von Kalm's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/nils-von-kalm.html