Success Redefined

It has not been an easy week.

From difficulty with websites to difficulty with people, there are times when I would like life to be easier.

I’m sitting now at one of the two coffee shops in Rania, listening to Adele on repeat. Adele is easy on the ears, and I find myself gradually relaxing. Just before I left the university today, I spoke with two colleagues. “I don’t know how you do it” I said. “You face barriers in every single thing you do, and yet you don’t give up. You continue to face life with hope, joy, and laughter.”

This is the honest truth. Most of our Kurdish friends have life circumstances that are much more difficult than ours. Yet, I don’t hear them complaining. They face every day with far more joy and hope than I have. This is remarkable.

Much of what my husband and I face here is learning to redefine success. Success at our jobs in the United States was easy to define. We had deliverables and performance reviews. We had deadlines and targets. Our lives were both dictated by grants and all that goes into them: problem statements, proposed plan, graphs, evidence, tables, objectives, outcomes, conclusions, and attachments. All of it wove together to create a fairly concrete system of success. It was easy to know if we were doing our jobs well.

We have entered into a system where none of that exists; where we search and search and search to find grants that our university is eligible to apply for. Once we find those proverbial needles in haystacks, we search and search to see if they fit with our universities capability. The amounts of money are tiny. I was used to dealing in hundreds of thousands to a couple million dollars while my husband was used to dealing in millions. Now, we get excited when we see a grant for five thousand dollars. The smaller the grant, the more the funder seems to want in terms of paper work. So we end up spending as much time on writing a grant for five thousand dollars as we used to for a million.

There are times when we are convinced it is a losing battle. We set up our ‘to do’ lists, only to be outdone by lack of electricity, no internet and hard to describe infrastructure challenges.

Lately I’ve come to not try to redefine it. I’ve come to realize that success is an arbitrary losing battle. But faithfulness – that feels possible.

Success is defined by performance. Faithfulness is defined by constancy.

Success is defined by accomplishment. Faithfulness by devotion.

Success is defined by achievement. Faithfulness by commitment.

Success is defined by attaining a goal. Faithfulness by being true to a promise.

As long as we posed the question “How do we redefine success?” we were still coming out as losing. We felt like failures. But changing it to “Are we being faithful?” This feels helpful.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s not just us. Maybe there are others out there that are defining their lives by success when that leaves way too many people out of the equation. Maybe changing the paradigm to faithfulness would change society in indescribable ways. The person who is considered “mentally challenged”, the refugee with no job, the elderly who struggles to move in the morning, the one who is chronically ill, the child, the newborn…. how do they fit into our paradigms of success? How can our world be changed to include faithfulness or mere existence as markers of value?

So what does faithfulness mean to me at this moment? It means that I’ll not complain about lack of resources. That I will learn to love across cultural differences. That I will not rage about no internet. It means that I will be kind and honor others, that I will communicate in spirit and in truth, that I will love hard and pray harder, that I will love God and love others, that I will read, speak, and write words that honor God, that echo truth.  

“Just be faithful.”

Just be faithful – it’s something I’ve written about before, and so I’ll close with some words I wrote some time ago:

The words continue “Marilyn, I know you’re tired. Just be faithful. With my strength be faithful.” There is now a heavy rain falling and those of us on our way to work are leaving the subway. There is a puddle three inches deep on the platform right before the stairs, just deep enough to seep into shoes before going up to dark clouds and rain. I’m still tired but I walk with One who knows tired, with One who knows pain, with One who knows what it is to live out faithful in this beautiful, broken world.

17 thoughts on “Success Redefined

  1. Thank you for this post. I’m turning 40 this years and “success” – redefining it – has been at the forefront of my mind. Untangling myself from visions and expectations for my life that were mostly not even my own and being in full loving acceptance of what is. Thank you for the reminder to live in faithfulness! Sounds like the Serenity Prayer will come in handy whenever the internet goes out xo


  2. This is so good. Thank you… just be faithful…I’m going to write some of the lines in my journal. And I’m so glad for His great faithfulness. Donna

    On Thu, Feb 7, 2019, 11:17 AM Marilyn R. Gardner Marilyn posted: ” It has not been an easy week. From difficulty with > websites to difficulty with people, there are times when I would like life > to be easier. I’m sitting now at one of the two coffee shops in Rania, > listening to Adele on repeat. Adele is easy o” >


  3. Thank you, Marilyn. I’m new to your blog and I’m loving reading your posts. You are a wise woman. I’m encouraged by your words. Yes, God is looking for us to be faithful in the circumstances in which he has called us. I’m serving in Central America (originally from the North Shore of Massachusetts) and there’s so many things that I could complain about living in the developing world, but I’m trying to be count my blessings and learn to redefine success as you say. Thank you again for your encouragement and your faithfulness. God bless you. Leslie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So lovely to hear from you. Thank you for taking the time to both read and comment. Incidentally, I lived on the North Shore for awhile when we first moved back from Egypt. I’m trying to do the gratitude thing too. I think the most difficult is the no electricity- I love light sooo much.


  4. In most eastern cultures it takes years just to become comfortable in the language and culture, to build the relationships to begin to accomplish anything. With our western understanding of “success” we expect to do great things in a few years, or less. When it doesn’t happen, too often we give up and leave. After our first 10 years in Pakistan, we felt as if we had nothing to show for those 10 years of our life. We struggled with whether to go back. Everything was hard: the climate, the lifestyle, the languages, the culture, sending our children to boarding school. But God made it very clear that Pakistan was the place He wanted us so we went back and stayed for many more years. They were good years, but even after 34 years there was not much we could point to as successful accomplishment from a western point of view. But I have no regrets about spending our lives in Pakistan. I know it was what God wanted us to do and in the end that is enough.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. “I thank Him who has given me strength for this, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful by appointing me to His service.” 1 Timothy 1:12.
    Keep on keeping on faithful to His calling. Blessings and prayers.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Marilyn, I needed this today. Sometimes leading a small church in suburban Chicago is a difficult slog, especially with little (visible) response. Thank you for the reminder that the Lord loves our faithful service. You and your husband are being faithful in any number of ways, right where you are today.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, I do appreciate that. Thanks so, so much. It can be such a challenge. With huge Willow Creek North Shore in the suburb to the north and powerhouse Harvest Bible Chapel in the suburb to the south, it seems like a small church with traditional worship is completely overlooked… Yet I know that some seniors (and their children and grandchildren, when they attend) are encouraged and comforted by my ministry. And, I do try to be faithful, with God’s help. If you have time, please pray for little St. Luke’s Church in Morton Grove. I so appreciate the prayers.


  7. Thank you for being faithful and sharing all these things, the good and the struggle. Lord have mercy and bring you peace and more joy.


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