Friday, April 4, 2014

Shifting Success

Success.  The result of goals?  The result of calculated risks?  The result of God?

I have been giving a lot of thought to success lately. 

For one thing I am constantly harping about it to my students. “If you want to succeed in reaching Honor Roll, you must complete each day’s goals.  If you continually meet or exceed your goals, you will have success.”  That’s a goal thing.

Success hovers above me as I live this Moscow life, too.  Having found my way around the Metro was a particular kind of success.  Grocery shopping, ordering food at a restaurant in a foreign language, making friends – all successes checked off my invisible list.  That’s a calculated risk thing.

I am told I have been successful at raising my children and am asked for advice.  “How did you raise your sons so successfully?”  A question for which I have no response.  I honestly don’t know.  I ponder it often and shake my head in amazement at their successes, at their achievements, at their character.  Where did they come from?  How did my mistakes, miscalculations, misunderstandings allow them to become men of honor?  That’s a God thing.

I understand success in the business world.  After three, six, 12 months of employ, my work product and conduct has been evaluated and re-evaluated.  “You are too loud.  You are too assertive.  You do not speak up enough about problems.  You are not confident enough.”  My favorite?  “You work really hard and you do an excellent job, but you make too many mistakes.  You need to slow down.”  I cannot tell you how many times my lack of success has been connected to moving too fast and worrying too much about what should be done in a day.  I thrived on rising to the task, deflating the stress and being successful!

I have long held to the idea that if I could make my boss look better, then I had done my job well.  The best teams I have been on have allowed me latitude to be creative in insuring their success.  And I did make them look better.   I comprehend the importance of those business goals and agree with them.  I work hard to apply them to my personal business as I see their value. 

But now I’m engaged in another kind of business with a different set of parameters.  The business of education is much like an art project whose final pattern is not known for many years.  I have had passed to me certain impressionable minds and hearts.  I have the ability to break their creativity, to shatter their confidence, to frighten them away from dreaming big.  Equally, I have the opportunity to unlock their creative genius, to build their confidence, to strengthen their desire to dream impossible dreams.   Each day is another chance to fail or succeed.

The importance of this window of time is magnified in an international school such as this.  These lives are those of future leaders.  These children already speak two or three languages.  The likelihood that they will go through the next five years of education together is remote.  Rather, we will soon be only memories of one another scattered to the four corners. 

How do I measure the success of my work as an educator?  With more questions, of course.

Do they read better now than they did in October?  Can they work sums more quickly?  Do they know how to tell time?  Have they mastered a broader vocabulary?  Do they enjoy the art of learning?  Are their friendships stronger?  Is there a sense of community which builds them up?  Are they thriving?  Is there any tool lacking in their toolbox?

There is another layer.  I am also an Associate in Missions.  My purpose here is to share the goodness of Jesus Christ with Moscow.  People have invested in me financially and prayerfully to share in this project. 
I know how Americans generally gauge success of a church.  “How many in Sunday School?”  “How many baptized?”  “How many have received the Holy Ghost?”  How many?  Not many here.  It seems I am not much help at all to the missionaries I have been assigned to assist.  I must remember that that measure of success as an AIMer cannot be quantified by numbers. 

I need to change my perspective.  Shift my paradigms.  Rearrange my view.

I read in Luke 7 the other day how John the Baptist had sent followers to ask Jesus if He was the One sent from God.  You would think John wouldn’t have to ask considering all that he had seen and heard of Jesus, but still he worried whether he had done his job.  Had he pointed to the right guy that day on the beach?  What if he missed it? 

Jesus seems to ignore John’s question all together with his response.  “Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached.”  John 7:22. 

It seems to me He was saying, if you do whatever your hand finds to do – be quick to help someone see more clearly, help someone in their walk, reach out to everyone with grace – even the destitute despised by society – speak the truth, show someone how to be raised from their sins, share the good news…. Then you are successful.

My job isn’t to have results.  My job is to sow seeds.   With my students, with my colleagues, with every single person who crosses my path.  My success can only be measured by the One for Whom I work.  

Yes, I do have personal goals to achieve while I’m alive.  Yes, I do have a plan to reach those goals.  Yes, I will do my best to be the best possible Follower of Christ I can.  Yes, I will continue to engage myself in stretching further to serve Him better.

It’s true.  There are many ways to gauge success.  Based on that, I think this year has been successful so far.  It’s a good investment of my time and of your prayers and finances.  I can’t imagine what the final harvest will look like, but I am excited to see what God has in mind.  Thankful He trusts me to plant the seeds and represent Him.   

According to these paradigms, am I successful? 

Well, I have seen many opportunities to share joy with others.  I have watched children read the Bible with excitement who had never seen a Bible before.  I have held the hand of someone who asked for prayer and felt the sweet presence of God bring peace to them.   I have broken the Bread of Life with several discussing the ins and outs of how to walk with Jesus.  And more.

Not only me, of course, but my colleagues and friends who share this adventure with me.  And you, my readers, my supporters, you are a part of this success, too.  Your encouragement and finances provides me with opportunity I wouldn’t have otherwise.  I am only the mouthpiece emboldened by your confidence.

So, now, let me rephrase the question.  Have we been successful so far?  

Yep.  I think we're doing okay.  So far so good.


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