devozine

For Youth Workers Post

PRESSURE TO SUCCEED

Steve Matthews

“In the Habit” session for devozine meditations for May 5–11, 2014.

MAKING THE CONNECTION

“I have lived in the same metropolitan area for over twenty years. Richmond, Virginia, is not my hometown; but I have lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else. This week I accepted a job in Massachusetts. These are exciting and scary days for me. While I feel a sense of purpose in the work I will do, and I look forward to collaborating with my co-ministers in this work, I grieve moving farther away from my friends and family.

“In the discernment process, I have asked myself questions like these: What is a call? How much of my sense of call is tied up in my ego and in pressure to succeed or to look successful? Does God care what I do as long as I seek to be awake to God’s nudges and to tell of God’s love wherever I go? Regardless of my work, am I taking time to delight in God and God’s goodness? Am I opening myself up to God’s delight, or do I feel the need to prove myself to earn God’s love?

“The pressure to succeed is seductive. We so easily feel that we are inadequate if we don’t measure up in terms of income, education, marital status, employment, appearance, the car we drive, and so on. Henri Nouwen writes in Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World, ‘Aren’t you, like me, hoping that some person, thing, or event will come along to give you that final feeling of inner well-being you desire? Don’t you often hope: “May this book, idea, course, trip, job, country or relationship fulfill my deepest desire.” But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment you will go on running helter-skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied. You know that this is the compulsiveness that keeps us going and busy, but at the same time makes us wonder whether we are getting anywhere in the long run. This is the way to spiritual exhaustion and burn-out. This is the way to spiritual death.’

“Nothing is wrong with success. It is admirable to give our best efforts to our churches, families, jobs, hobbies, and other worthwhile pursuits; but sometimes our desire for success is out of place. Until our primary quest is that of embodying our identity as God’s beloved daughters and sons, we may find rest, peace, fulfillment, and a deep sense of success an ever-illusive commodity.” —Steve

MEET THE WRITER

devozine Steve Matthews IMG_0433Steve Matthews was a youth minister for more than fifteen years. At present, he is living in central Virginia on a small farm with a cat, a dog, and sixteen chickens. He loves growing his own food as well as cooking and eating it. Steve is a leadership consultant and is presently working with “missio:Engage,” an online school for church redevelopment sponsored by the Episcopal Church. He is also a spiritual director and was a writer for The Way of Pilgrimage: An Adventure in Spiritual Formation for the Next Generation.

 

STUFF YOU WILL NEED

  • Bibles or copies of Matthew 4:1–11
  • newsprint – Write on one sheet the following words: “spectacular,” “relevant,” “powerful”
  • markers
  • index cards or paper
  • pens
  • copies of the closing prayer
  • Print-Friendly Version of this session

PLUGGED IN

  • This clip from “The Pursuit of Happyness,” the story of a homeless man who seeks to provide for himself and his son, is a powerful example of how hard work and faithful intentions can lead to a powerful sense of success.
  • This clip from “The Family Man” points to the possibility that we can spend our lives looking for success and never realize that we have already attained it.
  • The song “Small Is Beautiful,” by Justin Fox, reminds us that we don’t need to strive and achieve in order to discover powerful experiences that bring us a sense of fulfillment and meaning.

CHECKING IN

Begin with an opening ritual: observing a moment of silence, saying a short prayer together, lighting a candle to symbolize Christ’s presence. Take a moment to claim the space and time as holy.

Invite group members to reflect on a time in the past few weeks or months when they had a sense of success, when they set a goal for themselves and realized it. Then ask them to think of a time when they felt pressured to succeed, when they felt compelled to meet a goal so that they would measure up.

Invite group members to talk about their experiences if they are willing, and encourage them to listen to one another prayerfully and without comment. Invite a brief discussion:
       What is the difference in how success feels when the success is self-motivated and when it is imposed as a way to measure up?

EXPLORING THE WORD

Scripture: Matthew 4:1–11

Invite volunteers to read aloud Matthew 4:1–11 twice, with a brief pause between the readings. Ask group members to identify the temptations Jesus experienced. List them on a sheet of newsprint. Then invite people to put each of the descriptions in their own words. Help them think about what the temptations meant by asking, for example, “What perceived weakness was the devil trying to exploit by encouraging Jesus to turn the stones to bread?”

Author and priest Henri Nouwen believes that the devil was tempting Jesus to be relevant (“You say you are the Son of God, then prove it by performing a miracle that will end suffering”), to be spectacular (“Throw yourself down from this pinnacle and land unwounded so everyone will know you are special”), and to be powerful (“Don’t you want to be a ruler of many kingdoms?”). Each of these three seductions was a test. While nothing is inherently wrong with being relevant, spectacular, or powerful (the bi-products of success), these traits can be destructive if we lose sight of what is most important: a heart transformed by God’s love (Romans 12:2).

Show the group the sheet of newsprint on which you have named the three temptations (“relevant,” “spectacular,” “powerful”). Invite discussion:
       How is each temptation tied to success? (Remember that being relevant, spectacular, or powerful is not bad.)
       Which is most likely to tempt you toward an unbalanced understanding of success?

Show the clip from the movie “The Family Man.” Then invite discussion:
       Which one of these temptations was the man’s greatest weakness?
       How did it play into his inflated view of success?

SHARING IN PRAYER

Distribute copies of the closing prayer, and invite group members to say it together.

Dear God, we are grateful that you have equipped us with brains that seek knowledge and spirits that seek life. Help us to live into the potential of all of your gifts and to remember that knowledge, drive, and a quest for fulfillment are also gifts from you. Help us to be good stewards of our gifts and passions and to remember that only an abiding relationship with you can lead us to an abundant life. In all of our successes and failures, help us to remember that we are your daughters and sons held in your love. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

TAKING IT FURTHER

  • What is the antidote for misguided success? What spiritual practices would help us to live into our potential without being seduced by social pressure to measure up to unrealistic standards? Matthew 6:33 (NRSV) says, “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
  • Invite group members to spend some time contemplating the kingdom of God this week. Invite them to take five minutes a day to stop and notice how God is active and present in the time they spend in contemplation. What do they see as they look into the faces of family, friends, strangers? What stirs in them as they hear the birds sing or the sounds of children playing?
  • By simply practicing “being,” we might be able keep our sometimes misguided ambition in check. God speaks in our stillness; and in stillness, we may sense the kingdom of God’s love in our midst. Perhaps we can sense the abundance that is already ours.

—from devozine In the Habit (May/June 2014). Copyright © 2014 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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