The Illusion of Success

The Illusion of Success

If you were given the choice between worldly success or failure, what would you choose?  Oh, and what if success would lead you away from God while failure would draw you closer to him?

You don’t like those choices, do you?  Instead, you want to bargain.  I want success and I promise to stay close to God. Truly, I will!

As a writer, I want to be successful. And the more successful the better, right?  Yet, God will not measure my success in sales. The only thing that matters in the end is the extent that I love and serve him.

Next month, I will give a talk entitled, “Writing for God, Marketing for the World,” for the  Catholic Writers Guild conference during the  Catholic Marketing Network. Catholic writers  understand that success in the world is worthless without first and foremost success with God.

If I had to choose between becoming a New York Times best-selling author but lose my soul, or to never get published but achieve great holiness, I would have to choose the latter.  No doubt, it’s the same choice you would make.  But what if instead of heaven and hell, the choice was between heaven and purgatory?  Would you choose success in this world in exchange for delaying heaven? Is that an acceptable choice to make?  I think not.

It is a matter of following Jesus without reserve, or trying to keep up with him burdened with a suitcase full of earthly valuables.  How much attachment to the world is okay, knowing that total detachment is the goal? I do not present myself as having achieved perfection but I am working toward that goal.

Working in the World

In spite of the goal not to be worldly, if we are using our God-given talents, then we should strive to be successful at it. Yet, either it’s about our serving God or it’s about ourselves.  When it’s about us, we look at the rewards in terms of money, fame and influence. When it’s about God, our primary focus is about serving him.

Consider the story from St. Faustina, the polish nun and visionary who received the Divine Mercy devotion.   She saw a priest obeying God on a task but his efforts were failing.

“Why are you letting him fail when he is doing what you want?” St. Faustina asked Jesus.

“Success in my eyes is not always success in man’s eyes,” Jesus responded.

The priest was succeeding. He was following Jesus. God will not judge us on how others respond to us but rather on the degree to which we follow him. Whether one is an artist, a furniture maker, an architect, a full-time mother, etc., there are always temptations to desire success in the eyes of the world rather than first and foremost seeking to serve God above all else.

My two new books released this spring cover the theme of worldly versus spiritual success. Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories From Everyday Families contains twenty-two inspirational stories from people who embraced love, life, and God to navigate family life.  Some accepted the world’s view of failure: such as an inability to find a rental due to too many kids or having a Down’s syndrome child after an older pregnancy. Other stories take failure such as alcoholism or a teen pregnancy and get through it triumphantly by putting it in God’s hands.  They are stories about seeking success in God’s eyes and in union with him.

Dear God, I Don’t Get It is a fictional children’s story that looks at success through the eyes of sixth-grader, Aaron Ajax.  He seeks success by trying to make himself look like a hero, but he ends up looking foolish. Then Aaron becomes a hero in the world’s eyes after simply being in the right place at the right time.  But not until he risks the scorn of others by doing the right thing in a difficult situation does he come to understand that true success is not about pleasing ourselves or others, but God.

Eight Ways to Make Success about God

  • Imagine being on your deathbed and having achieved great worldly success. At that moment, you will be very aware that worldly gains will count for nothing.  Refer to this image often.
  • Spend time before the Blessed Sacrament and focus on your relationship with Jesus.  Period.  Time spent in union with God, helps to separate from the world.
  • Don’t compare yourself with people achieving more or less success. One leads to jealousy and envy and the other to pride.  It’s between you and God.
  • Pray before beginning, pray in thanksgiving at work well done, and pray for those who will benefit from your work.
  • Pray for those who help you, and pray for those who hinder you.
  • Network with other Catholics in your field for support, perspective, and inspiration.
  • Just as you celebrate your successes,  celebrate your failures. They hold opportunities for holiness and learning.
  • Help others. If helping someone else might create competition for you in some way, do it anyway and pray for his or her success.  Your act of charity will bring you closer to God and protect you from selfish ambition.

Seeking success is not a catch-22, but rather, an exercise in walking the fine line God lays out for us. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. So be as cunning as serpents and as innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16). In other words, we need to know the rules of the game in order to succeed, but our heart must be preserved for God.

Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband have ten children. She is an award-winning author and was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’s Amazing Grace Series. She has appeared on TV and radio stations across the country.  Her latest books, Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and children’s book, Dear God, I Don’t Get It are both available now.

To read more visit Patti’s Catholic News and Inspiration site. Follow her on Facebook at Big Hearted Families and Dear God Books.

Looking for a Catholic Speaker?  Check out Patti’s speaker page and the rest of the ICL Speaker’s Bureau.

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