I didn't complete the 50,000 words for the National Novel Writing Month challenge, but I wrote more fiction than I ever have before, and I learned a lot about novel writing, discovered some interesting plotlines, and even wrote a few good scenes. It was a great experience and I am ready to try again next year. I will be sure to start at the the beginning of November this time, however.
No, I did not make the goal, but on top of the learning that took place, I had a great time. I also enjoyed some wonderful ministry time with our church, developing some new outreach initiatives and a new Saturday evening worship service that will launch in January. I enjoyed getting ready for Thanksgiving and did some early preparation for Christmas. There was time to work with our seminary interns, care for people in need and help a family, and the church, through the loss of a dear saint. There was also time to be with my wife and kids, get our two youngest children ready to begin college, work through financial aid, and spend a lot of time holding our new grandson.
Many would assess my success by how well I achieved my goal. I am judging my success on what I learned and how I lived. It is all too easy to be caught up in accomplishments, but there is so much more than that to successful living. The process is much more valuable than meeting a goal. God created us to love and to live. We are part of the great divine plan to transform the world for good, not just by crossing finish lines and checking off "To Do's," but also by being a transforming presence along the way. Life is not just about getting there. It has a great deal more to do with the journey we took along the way.
Don't get me wrong, there is great value in goal setting, list making, and project completing. The danger is when we use only these tools to evaluate our success. A runner who finishes last, but breaks a personal best is hardly a failure. The student who scores a 70% on an exam, when that score is up from a 50% on the previous exam can certainly call that a success, even if the test makers do not. Success and failure are not so easily measured by such external tools. Sometimes, the greatest successes are hidden in the midst of amazing failures.
This season brings with it an enormous pressure to succeed in everything. We worry about our parties, our gifts and our commitments. We fear the judgement of others about our choices and abilities. We rush thought a myriad of activities to "make it a good Christmas," and miss the real meaning of the season in the process.
What really happens if someone gives you a better gift than you gave them? Is your relationship so fragile (and maybe shallow) that it would be damaged by the value or size of a gift? Does the world end if your cookies don't bake right, if the decorations fail to fully light, or if you miss a couple of holiday parties? Sure, all these things are important, but typically, not to the degree we think they are.
Several years ago, we came into December with our finances tighter than we wanted them to be. We could not see how we were going to be able to have the Christmas we were used to with our family. We prayed and talked, and we made a decision to make some difficult cuts. We talked with our children and explained that we needed to cut back, that we would not be able to travel and that we would have to postpone much of our gift giving until February or March. We shared how we believed that we should spend what we could on the holiday traditions that built our family: special foods on the Christmas buffet, time to be together, and fires in the fireplace.
The result was one of the best Christmases ever, even our children thought so. There were many homemade gifts on Christmas Day, great food, and great time together. Nothing was lost, but much was gained. The season was not a success by the standards of those who believe it is about what we get and what we can spend, but for our family, it was anything but a failure.
As you celebrate this season, and the many seasons of your life, be careful to look in the right places to determine your success. Often, what the world around us calls failure, God calls excellent, and it the latter opinion that really matters. Keep your eyes on what really matters, slow down, give yourself some grace and really live the life that you've been given.