The Monster of Success

Excerpted From
Befriending Your Monsters
By Luke Norsworthy

I once stood at the front of Randy’s Monday night preaching class after delivering a fake sermon. After a fake sermon in preaching class concludes, classmates give feedback based on an honor code. We all get better grades if everyone honors one another with positive feedback.

I basked in a healthy serving of undeserved honorific compliments, like a seal floating on the ocean basking in sunrays. Randy silently lurked in the shadows, like a great white shark in the depths of the ocean.

“Luke, in that story that you told about your female friend, what word did you use to describe her?”

“Randy, I … uh … used the word chick.”

Randy covered his face with his hand, forcefully rubbing his thumb into his temple. His hand slid away and his steely gray eyes stared at me.

“Why did you use the word chick in a sermon?”

“Um … I don’t know. I just did.”

Then there was silence.

“So, you used the word chick in a sermon because you weren’t prepared?”

“Um … yes, sir.”

And then more pregnant pause until Randy finally said, “How dare you defame the Word of God by using the word chick in a sermon because you weren’t prepared!”

“Sorry, sir.”

“Don’t ever do that again. And class … you are all dismissed.”

Randy called me the next morning to apologize for embarrassing me in front of my friends. An apology that I didn’t think he needed to extend that Tuesday morning, and now almost two decades later I’m certain he didn’t need to extend. But Randy’s the type of person who cares enough to humble himself by asking a dumb 20-year-old for forgiveness. Which is why I found myself back in front of him, asking for his opinion a year later.

I did not expect the advice he gave.

“Luke, the best thing for you would be to fail.”

I lost the ability to breathe.

He kept talking after “the best thing for you would be to fail” but those words were the only ones I could grasp at that moment. Almost two decades later, I still think that’s terrible advice.

It’s true.

But terrible.

I’ve failed plenty of times, and it has never felt like the best thing for me.

Yet I’ve come to believe that losing can be good for you in the same way that chemotherapy can be good for you.

Losing feels like dying because a death is occurring to the cancerous growth within our hearts that says if we get into the winner’s circle, then we will be good enough. Defeat feels like it’s killing every last part of us, but when given time to recover, we understand it was only stripping away the deeply intertwined lie that if we win enough, we will be enough.

In the best cases, failure reveals how our identities have become intertwined with the cancerous lie that we are what we do.

When the Monster of Success has pulled us into believing a drop of water is the comprehensive ocean of our identity, the only way to experience salvation is to drown the lie in the saving waters of defeat.

The best thing for us isn’t always what looks like a miracle.

And the worst thing for us isn’t always what looks like a disaster.

Defeat can be the treatment that kills the lie so you can experience the truth.

Success gets you going in life, but it can’t get you to overcome the lie that you are what you do.

While sitting in Randy’s office as a twenty-one-year-old full of excitement and optimism about my opportunity, the jarring nature of the first part of his advice deafened my ears to the rest of it, but after catching my proverbial breath I was able to process his full statement.

“Luke, the best thing for you would be to fail, because then you would realize that it’s not about you.”

Early success helps give us confidence to face the world, but defeat can teach us at any age what has been true all along. It is not, nor has it ever been, as much about us as we think. The lie that I am what I do is buttressed by the secondary lie that what I do is about me. I can believe I am what I do if I also believe I am the master of my own fate.

No matter how much I try to convince myself that my defeats and my successes are solely about me, they aren’t.

We might have our hands on the ship’s wheel, but we don’t control the current, the winds, or what the boats around us do.

Here’s an example from the church world: How often will Church A celebrate the growth of two-hundred members in a year while being willfully ignorant of Church B down the street that finally took a substantial stand against an injustice, resulting in the departure of two hundred of Church B’s members—who all just happened to migrate to Church A? Life and our lot within it are far less influenced by our control than many of us want to admit.

Our victories are not all our own. They are graces. We participate in them, but we aren’t the only ones participating.

The same is true of our defeats.

The Monster of Success says we are nothing if we don’t win. And the reason we befriend the Monster of Success is because that is true. We are nothing.

No matter how well we perform, from dust we came and to dust we will return.

No matter how high we climb, we are each still only one of seven billion people.

No matter how much we win, the day we die the world will continue to spin.

The Monster of Success misdiagnoses our nothingness because it acts as though our nothingness can be removed. Our identities will not be found by winning enough.

But it’s often in losing that we can be found.

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Excerpted from Befriending Your Monsters by Luke Norsworthy. Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Copyright 2020. Used by permission.