Successfulness vs. Fruitfulness


There is a great difference between successfulness and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control, and respectability. A successful person has the energy to create something, to keep control over its development, and to make it available in large quantities. Success brings many rewards and often fame. Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. A child is the fruit conceived in vulnerability, community is the fruit born through shared brokenness, and intimacy is the fruit that grows through touching one another’s wounds. Let’s remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness.

                                                                                                                                          –Henri Nouwen


This Nouwen quote spoke to me today. It’s easy to get caught up in the world’s idea of success. If you’re a results driven person or you have any “over-achiever” tendencies then you can lose sight of what we’re really called to, fruitfulness (Gal. 5:22-23).

I like what Nouwen has to say about “fruitfulness;” it’s the product of weakness and vulnerability. No wonder the world and our flesh are so attracted to successfulness. I mean let’s face it, weakness and vulnerability aren’t exactly qualities you’d want to list on your resume. But God isn’t looking at our resumes. He’s looking at our hearts. He wants to produce fruit in us and through us. And the only way fruit will grow is if the seed falls to the ground, is broken and dies.

Jesus replied, “…I tell you the truth , unless a kernal of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life…(John 12:24-25,)

I’ve been on this faith journey long enough to realize that the best fruit in my life comes from moments of brokenness and vulnerability. The moments when I’m unsuccessful, weak and I finally acknowledge that it’s God who is really in control. Those are the moments when I “lose” my life and often it’s painful. But they’re also the moments when God’s love, grace, mercy and humility seem to flow through me to others. 

Not surprisingly, the people who’ve most influenced my faith journey are not the “successful” ones but instead those who were willing to share their own weakness and vulnerability. One of the reasons I’ve spent 10 years serving on those bi-annual ecumencial retreats is because of the vulnerability and transparency shown by the women who give the talks. They share openly about how the grace of God has come into their sometimes very messy lives and transformed them. The fruit that comes from such transparency is beautiful. It gives others the freedom to admit their own weaknesses and humble themselves before God. And just as Nouwen’s quote states, we experience intimacy when we touch one another’s wounds and a community is born through our shared brokenness. It’s the power of God working through weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).

Despite this knowledge and experience I must confess that my flesh still rebels. It’s the “falling to the ground” and “dying” part that my flesh hates. Like many, I want to look (and feel) like I have my act together, like I’m successful. But the truth is I don’t and I’m not. Even though my flesh rebels, my spirit rejoices in the fruit that comes when I finally abandon my will and follow His.

Instead of a successful new year I think I need to pray for a fruitful new year; a year of falling to my knees and dying to myself. Not exactly a glamorous new year’s wish. I doubt Hallmark is going to ask me to write any of their Happy New Year cards. But, I know it’s what I need. Maybe it’s what you need too.

Here’s to a fruitful new year!

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