Success vs. Fruitfulness

Written by on August 16, 2011

“People are longing to rediscover true community.
We have had enough of loneliness, independence, and competition.”
Jean Vanier

 For so many of us today accomplishment, praise, and power are failing to address the deepest longings of our heart. Others admire and even envy our performance, nearly flawless, but inside there is deep and echoing hollowness – an emptiness. Many of our successes are resulting in a sense of disappointment, confusion, and even loneliness. The race of success has become a treadmill of performance that is not doling out the prizes that seemed so assured and inevitable when we started. There must be something more, something else…

Will we have the courage to step off the treadmill of performance? Or will we continue to fill our deepest aches with achievements and others’ respect? Are we each desperately hoping that the next accomplishment or the next word of praise will satisfy the hunger of our heart? Several years ago now a friend shared with me this quote from Henri Nouwen:

There is a great difference between success and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control, and respectability. A successful person has the energy to create something, to keep control over its development, and to make it available in large quantities. Success brings many rewards and often fame. Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. A child is the fruit conceived in vulnerability, community is the fruit born through shared brokenness, and intimacy is the fruit that grows through touching one another’s wounds. Let’s remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness.”

Whether as a student or a grandparent, a mother or a business professional, a teacher or a pastor, it is this reminder of “true joy” that we must not just speak to one another, but we must live out with one another. For certainly there are many pressures in North America that reduce who we are to something far less than God intended us to be. Amidst these relentless temptations to substitute some sort of individual success or recognition for our heart’s security, we must be attentive and responsive to the Spirit of God who invites us to a different sort of life, a different sort of security in this world.

Saint Augustine, some sixteen hundred years ago, prayed this,

“You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you” [Confessions, Book I(i)(1)].

Perhaps it is the restlessness of our own hearts that wil remind us today to pray with Augustine. Let us begin to imagine and risk and hope for a way of being in the world that “is rooted and grounded in love.” (Ephesians 3:17-19) May our lives together patiently give shape and expression to God’s grace and rest and life in this 21st century world. Blessings…

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