Success means we go to sleep at night knowing that our talents and abilties were used in a way that served others.”

Marianne Williamson

Success is an interesting thing. It might be a particular rung on the corporate ladder, completion of a major athletic even, or gaining admission to a prestigious organization. Some might find success in the accomplishments of their children or reaching that next milestone-wedding anniversary. For others it might be moving into their dream home, driving the ‘it’ car, or sporting the latest and greatest clothing label. Do you find your place on this list? Is your success measured by any of these markers? Or, do you see it another way? How we define stress says a lot about what we value. 

We live in a culture that is deeply affected by the desire for success. Stress and anxiety are so prevalent that we have entire industries based on helping people find the calm through herbs, pharmaceuticals, physical activity, diets and a myriad of other remedies. Companies that specialize in clothing, furniture, books, and DVD’s have branched out from those industries hoping to build revenue when we realize their product is available to augment whatever it is that is supposed to bring serenity to our lives. In spite of all that is available to us to bring us peace, we see that health in America is increasingly affected by the human physiological response to unresolved stress and anxiety. On the individual level this can be seen in the national obesity level, heart disease, cancers, strokes and a litany of chronic illnesses. As a community we see uncontrolled anger, frustration and hopelessness that presents itself in a variety of crimes ranging from a neighborhood spat to road rage to hostile shootings.

The problem is, with all of the resources available to us today, we don’t seem to be able to find peace. In actuality, our national obsession with stress and its ugly outcomes seems to be getting worse. Most of us long for that elusive feeling of peace, yet we just can’t seem to find it in the midst of our goal-oriented culture.

Years ago I heard a national talk show hostess encourage an overweight, lonely and depressed woman to find a place to volunteer 3-4 times a week. There was one important caveat to her advice – the place had to be more than a mile from her home. She was to walk there, share herself in service to others and walk home at the end of her scheduled shift. After she had done this for a month, she was to call into the show again to let the hostess know what transpired. She speculated that the woman would loose some of her excess weight from regular exercise and, more importantly, she would recognize she had something to offer to others, which would ease her feelings of loneliness and despair. I didn’t hear the second call. My guess is the talk show hostess was right.

In her quote, Marianne Williamson equates success with the use of our talents and abilities. How many times have we heard that we will be successful in life if we find our passion and make it our work? The problem is, success measured in those terms tends to be about financial achievement. Williamson gives us another measure – peace, the kind that feeds into sound and restorative sleep, as a result of success. That peace comes from serving others.

In Matthew 11 Jesus tells us something about who we are in God’s world. It ends with an invitation to “come to me” and it speaks to “all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens.” Even though the burdens we carry in our current era are very different from the ancient people, there are still big, ugly things that cause us to live in constant stress. Jesus paints a different picture of what life could and should look like. There’s just this one little thing we need to do and it involves a yoke.

The ancients would have understood the function of a yoke. It is a large, wooden crosspiece that harnesses two animals together so they can pull a cart. The yoke binds them so they share the load and complete the work. In our industrialized world, we have little need for yokes and oxen, so it is hard to picture what this analogy looks like. The point is, Jesus calls to us in our stressed and crazy lives. He offers us rest. Then, he instructs us to take his yoke. No, not to carry it alone. The nature of a yoke is that it is shared. Jesus is going to walk with us and guide us in his ways. There will be times when we try to veer left when he is moving right, or vice versa, and the yoke will keep us moving along together.

This brings up another point to ponder, namely Jesus’ ways. I never really thought about Jesus’ ways as being based on his talents and abilities. I mean, he’s Jesus, for crying out loud! Wouldn’t a list of things that weren’t his talents and abilities be shorter, if anything at all? But, what if we tried to make a list of the good things…acceptance, nurture, serving others…

Jesus’ way was and is to serve others. In our humanity we have limitations. Some of us are good at some things while others excel at others. We read in Romans and 1 Corinthians that we are given different gifts and talents, yet all of them are to be used in service to God. What does that look like? If we follow the example that Jesus modeled for us through his life, service to God is service to those around us.

Which brings us back to Ms Williamson’s quote. When we recognize who we are and whose we are, we will use our talents and abilities in a way that serves others. Maybe then we can let go of societies measures of success and find rest in living as God created us to live.

 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11: 28-30