Success is a strange thing because it means something different to almost everyone. Some people define success by the size of their bank account, the size of their house or the make of a car. Italian auto manufacturers have literally made billions focusing on this definition of success.

Finishing the race

Some people define success by their personal or career goals. They might tie their success to landing the job they’ve always wanted or getting the promotion they worked so hard for. For some it’s the culmination of their life’s work. For some it’s making it through the day without a drink.

For some of us we define success by these precious words, “I’m discharging your child from (fill in the blank) therapy because they are no longer delayed for their age.” We might measure success in the months since their last surgery or doctor’s appointment. We think that a measure of success at our house is when we ask a question and we get a direct and honest answer. There is much rejoicing when this happens.

A Boy and the Back Yard

One of our favorite success stories involves our now ten year old son Tyler. When Tyler came home he couldn’t play in the back yard for more than two minutes without finding a reason to come inside. It could be anything he really didn’t care. He was thirsty, he was hungry, he needed to use the bathroom, he needed to get something or he needed to bring something inside. There was no apparent end to the list of reasons he needed to be inside.

Because I was trying to win father of the year back then I would tell him that he needed to play outside with his sister. “Quit bugging us” I would say. “You don’t need to come inside all of the time” I would say. Yet all of my words didn’t change his behavior. Amazing. I know.

I shared this story with our friend Michael Monroe one day and he suggested that Tyler was only coming inside to check on us, to see if we were still there. He said that our son didn’t yet trust that we were there for him and that we weren’t going anywhere.  Then he suggested that I tell Tyler he could come inside anytime he wanted to check on us.

I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do as he had suggested…but we gave it a try because nothing we we were doing was working. The next time Tyler came in from the backyard I said “We are not going anywhere and anytime you want to come inside and check on us you can.” We didn’t see Tyler again that afternoon. Amazing. I know. By addressing his need we got to the place we all wanted to be.

That’s how we define success at our house. Anytime there is establishment of trust and growth in relationship we rejoice and call it a success.

Two More Definitions of Success

There are so many definitions of success because it is such a personal term. One of my favorite definitions is shared by Jesus in Matthew’s gospel. I love it because it is counter-intuitive and counter-cultural.

The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. – Matthew 23:11-12 (NLT)

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote another one of the best definitions of success I have ever read. His thoughts on success have had a great impact on me since I first heard them many years ago.

That Man is a Success Who has lived well, laughed often and loved much;
Who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of children;
Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
Who leaves the world better than he found it;
Whether by improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
Who never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it;
Who looked for the best in others and gave the best he had.

How do you define success?

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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