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The word success brings up a lot of interesting feelings in me. I have spent years trying to define it. Sometimes it seems like it’s about an illusive balance between disparate elements. Sometimes it’s an extremely clear target I just keep throwing at (and sometimes hating myself every time I miss or a little off).  Once it was about how my tummy looked in relation to my ribs every time I went to the bathroom and keeping the number on the scale, as well as everything else in my life, within an acceptable range of “perfection.”

I’d like to say I’ve evolved since then, but mostly I haven’t, or at least my mind hasn’t. I may have let go of some standards, but I’ve added tons of others: what job, what type of industry, location, location, location, speaking a foreign language no mistakes (hah!), getting on the basketball team, being accepted to the top choice college, and having him like me back as much or more as I liked him, and having him want everything that I wanted. Success was definitely not something that came from within me. Then I went through a little quarter life crisis identity shift, and started questioning some of my assumptions, and my criteria took on a more “spiritual” tone: knowing who I am, deciding the meaning of life, being able to plan my life out and set new targets for success, figuring out exactly what my purpose was and where I “should” be, understanding my destiny, coming to grips with my mortality, and just achieving a state of centered, well-planned, perfectly-executed wholeness. Well, it just doesn’t work that way…

Eventually I was lifted out of the depression that is striving for perfection and needing immediate answers by that childlike, sometimes slightly impish friend of mine- Joy. He shows up where you least expect it. Just when you think you’ve “failed,” or that you know what you want and where you’re going, there he is! All you can do is smile and hold up your hands! He makes you laugh, and when you lose him, sometimes you grow pure, soul-cleansing, completely unbitter tears of a life well lived. And the tears are only a sign he’s still there, just hidden from view. And just when you think you’ll never see him again, you remember this life is so much more than just a vale of tears, sorrow, and doubt, and there you realize he was lurking just out of the corner of your eye.

Sometimes you want to chase him, with his dirty little fingers and sweetly teasing smile, but then you realize he’s always around there somewhere, and even if you don’t see him right away he’s just hiding himself for the moment. You get excited about the next time he’ll surprise you, and look, there he is!

This little guy can completely change your life! Once you think you’ve got it all figured out, there he goes, showing up in those unexpected places that you wanted to completely check off the list of “success,” goals, and attempts to plan a life well lived. I don’t think it works that way. Mystery is part of the bargain when you’re human, and is always there even in the most satisfied contented happiness. You might someday be looking into your longtime beloved spouses eyes, with children and dogs cavorting around you, and never really know how it was you chanced to meet or why him out of all the men on this earth. Sometimes it will seem like it could have been anybody- or another city, or country, or profession- but out of all the possibilities, there it was that you found joy, as much as he is truly everywhere and in all times and places.

Believing is seeing.

And sometimes, you will re-orient your quest for joy- past, present our future. You could be mistaken, or you could be right on the money. Joy is pretty elusive and mystery, but maybe it’s the only thing worth aiming for anyway, and your efforts call it forth one way or the other. Maybe it’s the element of surrender, of realizing there’s something far beyond all your plans and strategems and expected utility and trying to optimize everything, that welcomes him in.

On this Good Friday, as Christians everywhere, and non-Christians admiring the philosophy of Jesus too, contemplate a sacred mystery of horrible loss, pain, brutality, and the most unfair of endings to the best life ever lived, the absolutely incredible sacrifice a man was willing to make for all men everywhere, that they might know love, it’s important to remember joy, paradoxical as it might sound. That is what He sacrificed himself for- our connection to God, which is rooted in the deepest expanses of our being, mysterious and strange, completely illogical to the world of the everyday, and totally beyond our human comprehension.

Joy is not something we deserve, it is a gift to be received with grace. So let go happiness, success, and all those other meager comforts you seek to deal with the fact of your mortality, your human finiteness, imperfection, and inherent limits, and let God. See the life of wonders beyond your imagination He wants you to lead, and say YES!

Love and blessings,