Who is really successful?


IN an age of great freedoms and affluence, the most common psychiatric problems have shifted from guilt to depression.

Secular societies judge only by results and those who fail by societal standards, who are not productive and successful, or athletic enough, are often deemed failures.

But success often seems to contain the seeds of its own failure. The rich are not any happier than the poor. Nor the famous and powerful any more self-assured than the unknown.

And the truth is that God of the Christians, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists and Muslims does not care who wins a football game or an Olympic gold medal.

The Lord’s Prayer says nothing about “winning the game”, and winning at Who Wants To Be A Millionaire will not make life worthwhile.

True spirituality is concerned with filling a natural hunger in the soul for meaning.

English philosopher Jeremy Bentham said the identification of what makes us happy was easy. An action’s tendency to promote happiness could be determined simply by adding up the amount of pleasure it produced and subtracting the pain.

John Stuart Mill thought this crude and recognised that happiness depended not only on the quantity but also the quality of pleasures, including the higher pleasures of the intellect and “moral sentiments”.

Aristotle linked happiness with ideas of fulfilment and self-realisation. They all still judged happiness by human standards.

Jewish author Rabbi Harold Kushner has a different outlook on success and failure.
“If people only see what is measurable and visible, God sees into the heart. He sees successes where no one else does, not even ourselves.

“Only God can give credit for the angry words we did not speak, the temptations we resisted and the patience and kindness long forgotten by those around us.

“God redeems us from the sense of failure and fear of failure because He sees us as no human eyes can.”

Thomas Merton wrote 30 years ago that life was one great unity, brimming with meaning for those who allowed themselves to co-create with God.

He recognised the coming age of the New Age “be yourself” cults that would encourage followers to achieve individual success without offering any spiritual substance.

“It seems to me that when one is too intent on being himself, he runs the risk of impersonating a shadow,” he said.

“In any case, there is little chance of us being anyone else. We all live somehow or other and that’s that.”


12 thoughts on “Who is really successful?

  1. Jesus suffered on the cross and with human eyes was seen as a failure. He did not bring in a new age for the Jews. He initially failed in the eye of His followers. In the end His “failure” brought in a new covenant, Grace and redemption.


  2. Abraham Lincoln knew failure. He lost eight different elections before becoming the 16th president of the United States.

    Thomas Edison made thousands of unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked him how it felt to fail so many times he replied, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that will not work.”

    Henry Ford failed and went broke five times before he succeeded. He said, “Failure provides the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently.”

    Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because, “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” He had several bankruptcies before he built Disneyland. The proposed park was initially rejected by the city of Anaheim because they were afraid it would only attract riffraff. (Guess they didn’t foresee how much it would cost to go there.)

    R. H. Macy failed seven times before his store in New York City caught on.

    – See more at: http://www.ircs.org/about-us/ircs-blog-central.cfm?threadid=7568#sthash.5KTG2gdg.dpuf


  3. The goal of success comes in many forms.
    Achieving that goal is success. It does not mean it is a good thing though.
    Success costs.


    • Malik Khan, my friend who lives happily in a poor part of India, once asked me to describe what homes looked like in Australia. He looked incredulous when I mentioned garages.
      “What? You mean you have houses for your cars?” he asked. “That’s crazy”.
      It suddenly struck me at the time that he was right.
      Malik lives a life of beautiful simplicity. And he doesn’t even try to do so; it just happens. He’s not materially rich but he seems content living in a small wooden home with his wife, kids and extended family not far from the grandeur of the Taj Mahal. He smiles a lot, especially when he’s in the local mosque thanking God for what he has.
      I thought of Malik when another friend, who lives in a big house and spends a lot of time on Twitter, said: “I know what 15 of my friends had for breakfast, but I don’t know whether any of them is struggling with major life issues.”
      One thing is true in life. We see in the world what we want to see. There is a joy in simplicty.


      • Yes, simplicity. The west has lost that. As Christians it is something we need to do. It allows more time for God.


      • The difference I found is that in a third world country the houses are small and the streets are full of people.

        Here the houses are getting bigger, the backyard is getting smaller and the streets are empty.


      • I would like to add the cars are often outside the garage because there is no room for them. As one policeman said at a neighbourhood watch meeting. Does not make sense, you have a garage but your most valuable asset aside from the house is left outside.


  4. Christianity (Monotheism) was introduced to Yemen around the 5th century. The ordeal these Christians had to endure is recorded in the Quran. They were known as the companions of the trench.

    Christianity took hold in Yemen. The King wanted to stop it so he dug a trench and filled it with logs and set it on fire. Those that did not reject their faith was told to throw themselves into the trench.

    The Quran states

    Quran 84:4-11

    Cursed were the people of the trench (the story of the Boy and the King).
    Fire supplied (abundantly) with fuel,
    When they sat by it (fire),
    And they witnessed what they were doing against the believers (i.e. burning them).
    They had nothing against them, except that they believed in Allah, the All-Mighty, Worthy of all Praise!
    Who, to Whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth! And Allah is Witness over everything.
    Verily, those who put into trial the believing men and believing women (by torturing them and burning them), and then do not turn in repentance, (to Allah), will have the torment of Hell, and they will have the punishment of the burning Fire.
    Verily, those who believe and do righteous good deeds, for them will be Gardens under which rivers flow (Paradise). That is the great success .

    Now the believers all being killed for their faith would be seen as failure in this world. To God, having kept their faith is seen not just as success but a great success.


      • You may like this Monica. It is how Christianity come to Yemen in the first place.

        Ṣuhaib (May Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “There lived a king before you and he had a court magician. As he (the magician) grew old, he said to the king: “I have grown old, so send me a boy in order to teach him magic.”

        The king sent him a boy to serve the purpose. And on his way (to the magician) the boy met a monk to whom he listened and he liked [his speech].

        It then became his habit that on his way to the magician, he would meet the monk and stay with him and when he arrives at the magician [late], the magician used to beat him because of this delay.

        He complained about this to the monk who said to him: “When you feel afraid of the magician, say: Members of my family had delayed me. And when you fear your family, say: The magician delayed me.”

        It so happened that there came a huge beast and it blocked the way of the people, and the boy said: “I will know today whether the magician or the monk is better.”

        He picked up a stone and said: “O Allah, if the monk is dearer to You than the magician, bring about death to this beast so that the people be able to move about freely.”

        He threw that stone at it and killed it and the people began to move about freely. He then came to the monk and told him the story. The monk said: “Son, today you are superior to me. You have come to a stage where I feel that you would be soon put to a trial, and in case you are put to a trial, do not reveal anything about me.”

        The boy began to heal those born blind and the vitiligo stricken and he, in fact, began to cure people from all kinds of illnesses. When a courtier of the king who had gone blind heard about him, he came to him with numerous gifts and said: “If you cure me, all these things will be yours.”

        He [the boy] said: “I myself do not cure anyone. It is Allah, the Exalted, Alone Who cures; and if you affirm faith in Allah, I shall also supplicate to Allah to cure you.”

        This courtier affirmed his faith in Allah and Allah cured him. He came to the king and sat by his side as he used to sit before. The king said to him, “Who restored your eyesight?”

        He [the boy] said: “My Lord.”

        Thereupon he [the king] said: “Do you have another lord besides me?”

        He [the boy] said:”My Lord and your Lord is Allah.” So the king tortured him until he told him about the boy.

        The boy was thus summoned and the king said to him: “O boy, it has been conveyed to me that you have become so much proficient in your magic that you cure the blind and the vitiligo stricken and you do such and such.”

        Thereupon he [the boy] said: “I do not cure anyone; it is Allah Alone Who cures,” and the king took hold of him and began to torture him until he told him about the monk.

        The monk was summoned and it was said to him: “You should turn back from your religion.” But he refused, and so the king sent for a saw, placed it in the middle of his head and cut him into two parts that fell down. Then the courtier of the king was brought forward and it was said to him: “Turn back from your religion.” He, too, refused, and the saw was placed in the midst of his head and he was torn into two parts. Then the boy was brought to him and it was said to him: “Turn back from your religion.
        ” But he refused.

        The king then handed him over to a group of his courtiers, and said to them: “Take him to such and such mountain; make him climb up that mountain and when you reach its peak ask him to renounce his Faith. If he refuses to do so, push him to his death.”

        So they took him and made him climb up the mountain and he [the boy] supplicated: “O Allah, save me from them in any way you like,
        ” and the mountain began to shake and they all fell down (dead) and that boy came walking to the king.

        The king said to him: “What happened to your companions?”

        He [the boy] said: “Allah has saved me from them.”

        He [the king] again handed him to some of his courtiers and said: “Take him and carry him in a boat and when you reach the middle of the sea, ask him to renounce his religion. If he does not renounce his religion throw him (into the water).”

        So they took him and he [the boy] supplicated: “O Allah, save me from them.” The boat turned upside down and they all drowned except the boy who came walking to the king.

        The king said to him: “What happened to your companions?”

        He [the boy] said: “Allah has saved me from them” and he said to the king: “You cannot kill me until you do what I command you to do.”

        The king asked: “What is that?”

        He [the boy] said: “Gather all people in one place and tie me up to the trunk of a tree, then take an arrow from my quiver and say: In the Name of Allah, the Lord of the boy; then shoot me. If you do that you will be able to kill me.”

        The king called the people in an open field and tied the boy to the trunk of a tree. He took out an arrow from his quiver, fixed in the bow and said: “I the Name of Allah, the Lord of the boy,
        ” he then shot the arrow and it hit the boy’s temple. The boy placed his hand upon the temple where the arrow had hit him and died.

        The people then said: “We believe in the Lord of this boy, We believe in the Lord of this boy.”

        The king was told: “Do you see what you were afraid of, by Allah it has taken place; all people have believed.”

        The king then commanded that trenches be dug and fire lit in them, and said: “He who would not turn back from his (the boy’s) religion, throw him in the fire” or “he would be ordered to jump into it.” They did so till a woman came with her child. She felt hesitant in jumping into the fire. The child said to her: “O mother! Endure (this ordeal) for you are on the Right Path.”


      • Goodness, I’m left speechless. We have it so easy here. I love how the boy gives all the credit to God, as it should be. Reminds me of ‘Daniel in the Lion’s Den’. When you truly love God, surely you cannot deny Him, no matter what. Thanks Dom. A great read.


  5. “The logic of worldly success rests on a fallacy,” Thomas Merton observes, “(on) the strange error that our perfection depends on the thoughts and opinions of other men! A weird life it is, indeed,” he notes, “to be living in somebody else’s imagination, as if that were the only place in which one could at last become real.”

    Success to me is to achieve only what God wishes from us. To know our success or failure we need to understand God’s will for us, and that is not always knowable until the unknown goal is achieved or abandoned. So all we can do is contribute to life blindly as best we can, having faith in its rightness.

    If we feel we’ve failed, admitting it, using the experience as a down-payment for success in some way we haven’t imagined.


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