About a year ago, a friend offered a question to our group: "How would you define success?"
His question made me think. I did not feel successful. In fact, I felt quite the opposite. My friends all seemed to be getting degrees, careers, recognition, awards. Well deserved, might I add. My husband was seeing all sorts of success in his business, which I was and am immensely proud of.
I googled "successful woman". There were so many photos, none of which looked like my life.
Here I was, a wife, a stay-at-home mom, a college drop-out (I put school on hold when I got pregnant with Silas), I volunteered for different ministries, but had no tangible evidence of success that would fit these definitions I was seeing. I felt absolutely no judgement toward these women. I thought what they were doing was wonderful. I thought they were living their dream. The problem was in my comparison. I brought home no pay-check. I was not the modern woman the world wanted. I was just me. At home picking up toys and reading my Bible. I would be making no top ten lists. I would have no plaques or trophies or newspaper articles. There were no promotions, no degrees to put on my wall. And although my beautiful friends, my incredible parents, and my extremely encouraging husband constantly told me that I inspired them and that I was doing great things, I didn't feel that way. I couldn't. I was comparing my life to others, constantly. When people would kindly ask "so are you going to do anything" or "what do you do all day" or "are you going to go back to school" it hurt because the insinuation was, "you must not be driven enough. You must not see your own potential. I'll encourage you and maybe you'll do something bigger."
Or at least that's what I imagined.
I thought, am I not seeing my own potential? I was feeling pressured not by the life I had, but by those who were, sometimes unknowingly, looking into my life and judging me, making me feel as though I was wasting my potential. This left me confused, hurt, not good enough.
Then there was the other side of the coin. The super stay at home mom side. I didn't meet those standards either. Cloth diapers. Sewing. Home-made bug spray. Huge gardens. Perfect body. Aprons. All good things. Earning money from home by making homemade soaps with awesome logos. Just, I couldn't measure up.
The reality was, the world's success definitions, both progressive and conservative, didn't fit me. The lists were too long, the demands too many.
So when my friend asked us this question I prayed. And honestly this moment, this question, changed my life. I asked my Father, what is this? What is success in Your eyes? Because I don't feel like I meet the definition of the world's successful woman. In fact, I know I don't. But what is a successful woman in Your eyes? That's what I want to be.
He didn't direct me to Proverbs 31. He didn't have me turn to the "quiet and gentle spirit" passage. He didn't point me to the "work as for The Lord" one either. Instead I heard a simple phrase: "Remain in me."
I was flooded with peace. I picked up my Bible. I knew right where to go. John 15 has always been one of my favorites:
I made it my goal from that point on to make this my priority. My life's goal. My great dream. I want to remain in His love. All this means is that everything I do will start from that point. I ask Him before I act, I trust Him, I receive His love and grace even when I don't feel I deserve it. I read about Him, I sing about Him. I worship Him. I study Him. When I feel empty, I ask Him to fill me up.
This is important because the truth is no matter what I try to do, it will not bear good fruit if I am not rooted in His love. So my my definition of success has become very simple: Remain.
Contrary to what the masses think about Him, God's requirements are so much easier to meet than the world's. Because Jesus met them all on our behalf. So all we have to do is put our faith in Him. And as we remain in His love, as we seek Him and worship and study and follow Him, our dreams begin to unfold and we begin to live out our purpose and potential.
The amazing thing is, as I have pressed into that dream, God has revealed to me all sorts of truths about myself, about my life, about my passions. He has shown me what my dreams have been and what they are. He has helped me see the ones I have already achieved, and He has helped me be content as I wait for the next ones to come true. He has even lead me to let go of some, maybe that I wasn't ready for yet.
I dreamed about falling in love and getting married. I dreamed about being a stay-at-home mom. I dream about finishing school. I dream about starting a ministry that meets people's needs and leads people into an active relationship with Jesus. I dream of seeing the Father transform people through it. I dream of writing a book. I dream of having a farm with my family, a ministry together. I dream of having a garden. Tomorrow, God might place an entirely new dream on my heart. For now I'm content to have my feet stepped on constantly and do this:
The truth is, dreams don't always come true at once. They come to us in seasons, in waves. And in each of them there is a glimpse of the others, both past and future. It is a great disservice to ourselves, to think we must have them all at once to be successful. Every phase prepares us for the next. I am living my dream right now, picking up toys and tucking my children into bed. Volunteering for fantastic ministries, encouraging friends in their walk, rejoicing with them as they too reach their goals. I prayed for this. I dreamed of it as I rocked my baby dolls to sleep when I was seven. This is something I longed for. And here I am, achieving it. I plan to give this season my whole self, my whole heart, rooted in the love of God through Jesus. I will bear good fruit here if I remain in Him. He opens new paths constantly and when he says pursue, I will.
I am successful in my Father's eyes always. Every time I sit and turn my heart toward Him, and even when I take a really, really long time to remember to do it, He is still pleased with me.
Now I'm sure some will read this and instantly start assuming I'm suggesting that all women should be moms, should stay at home, should blah blah blah. Let me just clear this up: My dreams are not yours. Yours aren't mine. I won't try to be someone else's definition. I won't try to take your season on as my own and I don't expect you to take on mine. I don't think anyone else "should" be doing what I'm doing. Our dreams are all our own, unique, active. I don't compare anymore. I simply remain. I encourage you to do that too. And He will open doors and opportunities at the perfect time for us individually. My life is supposed to be different than yours. Our dreams play out uniquely and beautifully. So I won't compare anymore. My advice is you shouldn't either.
No matter the season, no matter what dream is coming true, they all start and end in Jesus for me. Because in Him they all hold together. And in Him they will glorify God.
I am happy. I am living my dream, right now. I am successful. And He has good plans for me. So here's to now.