Only when we see ourselves in our true human context, as members of a race which is intended to be one organism and “one body,” will we begin to understand the positive importance not only of the successes but of the failures and accidents in our lives. My successes are not my own. The way to them was prepared by others. The fruit of my labors is not my own: for I am preparing the way for the achievements of another…. Therefore the meaning of my life is not to be looked for merely in the sum total of my achievements. It is seen only in the complete integration of my achievements and failures with the achievements and failures of my own generation, and society, and time. It is seen, above all, in my own integration in Christ. (Thomas Merton)First of all, Thomas Merton is one of "my" writers. I gobble up so much of what he's written, and know that I'm really only understanding about 33% of what he's saying. But I pray the for the Holy Spirit to keep shedding light to me.
I grew up in a world were my value was measured, at least from the way it felt to me, by my accomplishments. I was asked about how many A's I got, how many tennis matches I won, how many awards I received, how much money I earned, how much weight I'd lost. At the end of the day, it's what I achieved that seemed to matter most. Others were openly disappointed when I told them I was jumping off the career track I entered after college graduation and jumping onto the train to vocational ministry. Later someone told me that I had been living under my potential for quite awhile. As a result, I have spent nearly all of my adult life continuing to seek after success in ministry to somehow "prove them wrong."
I regret these deeply misguided efforts. But God has brought a lot of healing to me in this, and I am trying to live, more and more each day, in light of the truth of Merton's words here. Both my "achievements" and "failures" add up to something far larger than what I understand. I am being shaped for eternity. My actions have impact beyond what I will ever see -- which is a good thing. And what I perceive as success and failure are supremely limited in scope.
I am part of God's people, and I have benefited from the saints who have gone before me. My actions will bear fruit primarily in those who come after me. As I was reminded today in scripture, "I have been crucified with Christ and yet I am alive; yet it is no longer I, but Christ living in me." (Galatians 2:20) What matters is how he is becoming greater in my life, and I am becoming less. (John 3:30).
May we each learn how to live truly "successful" lives, counter to the materialistic, foolish, short-sighted world around us, fixing our eyes on Christ.