THE IDOL OF SUCCESS

Growing up in a small Mississippi town where Batesville, is pronounced “Batesvul,” I come from a family of dreamers. It’s those knucklehead positive people who you just want to punch in the face for always finding a silver lining in everything to achieve something great.

I’m a people pleasing southern girl with a deep accent, freckles to create every kind of constellation known to man, and I can ‘pop, lock and drop it’ in the dancing department. I’m also a sucker for reading, especially the classics by a fire in the winter. Go ahead, call the nerd patrol.

On top of that, I pretty much prefer my converses over any other shoes. I thought my southern belle mother was going to flip a lid when I chose my “something blue” to be my new fresh converses in my wedding. Obviously high heels were never my thing.

And to top it all off, I am a politician’s daughter. I’m not exactly your typical well-polished southern girl.

My parents are incredible people on the world’s standards of accomplishments though. My dad grew up very poor and worked his way through school, adversity and doubt to eventually become not only a politician, but also the Governor of our state. My mom was no different. She was a versatile athlete, valedictorian and worked to provide for both her and my dad while he finished law school in pursuit of his dreams.

Even after they divorced, she always had a hard working mentality to do everything she could to provide the best opportunities for the fam. They were driven by ambition for a better future and were going to strive to be successful at it no matter what.

In my family, success was not an option; it was an expectation.

It was an unspoken rule that we had to push ourselves. I didn’t have much trouble with that anyway because like I said, I’m a dreamer and can be quite motivated to accomplish any ambition.

A sincere friend once told me, “You’re an extraordinary person that will go on to do incredible things for the Lord.”

This comment was said many years ago as an encouragement to me. She knows me well and knows that I desire success in all that I do. However, those words heightened my sense of extraordinary verses ordinary and would initiate a struggle of mine up until this past year, because of my definition of what it looks like to be extraordinary.

In high school, I was one of the captains on our state championship team. I finished as valedictorian. I led our high school as student body president and polished my resume with impressive volunteer activities. I was set for college…. until I met my new friends during my first week of college.

Turns out, they too were valedictorians, captains of their teams, student body presidents, as well as their school’s homecoming queens. They had me beat: brains, talent, popularity and beauty.

So I thought, “Saddle up C-Rae, it’s Round 2.” I worked to be the best at Ole Miss. I had a fresh chance to make a difference and to love people well. To change how people saw the world and inspire them to reach for more.

In the midst of this ambition, a creeping, gnawing feeling grew deeper and deeper:

The need for success at whatever I did and how I could never reach to its fullest degree. I continued day after day to push it down deeper. I was the one that was positive, friendly, smart, social and caring to everyone around me.

But, I felt that I had to increase all of those qualities everyday to a higher extent. I performed to make people like me. Frankly, it was exhausting.

By God’s grace, He showed me that I could genuinely have peace in Him and not in the fleeting ambitions of the world.  It changed so much of what I did. Instead of trying to put more stuff on my resume for a killer job, I shared the gospel over and over again with my friends.

I even went through recruitment to join a specific sorority just to do ministry.

I later went on to be Miss Ole Miss, which is our university’s way of saying that we represent the university as a whole. Ok, maybe it’s also a popularity contest if I’m being honest. No, I wasn’t the homecoming queen where you wear the dress during half time, although that is awesome. I wanted to be the face of Ole Miss when folks thought about the university.

It’s funny. I actually remember walking back to my sorority house with one of my best friends who had just won Homecoming Queen and me, Miss Ole Miss, when I heard people chanting for me. It was about 300 girls shouting for me because they were proud that I won. I was elated. It was a high for me like no other.

But, the high didn’t even last until that night when I called up that same friend of mine saying how all the praise was all rubbish compared to Christ.

And thus, it propelled a platform to share Christ all the more with people because these girls thought that I had reached the pinnacle of success. I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t want them to be fooled like I was because I failed miserably in the process. I wanted to give them a great ambition to live for and to walk alongside of them. I wanted to explain to college girls about the love and satisfaction in Christ and for them to follow Jesus.

I saw genuine life change as girls trusted Christ, mentored them in reading God’s Word and helped them grow in their relationship with God. Then challenged them to do the same with other girls. Sadly, success in ministry was addicting and I found every bit of my self worth in it.

But is it wrong to be ambitious or want success in life especially when it comes to things for the kingdom?

I would say that these things are incredible to strive for if we have the right motives. If your ambition is to see God glorified in everything you do, continue to strive for that. That’s a holy ambition. However, if you are like me and want to be known for how awesome you are at doing all these things for God’s glory, then I urge you to ask for God’s immediate help with the idolatry of success and promotion of self.

Even though I was walking with God and seeing fruit, it was not necessarily God’s endorsement of my life. He’s going to work through me and in spite of me because He cares about His glory. I confused success with God’s endorsement of my life. He cares more about my heart than a number I bring to Him.

And yet that same struggle with ambition to achieve more and elevate myself didn’t go away just because I became a missionary.

I had just transferred it to the need to attain spiritual maturity through my acts and climb the ladder within the Christian world of leadership. That’s a dangerous game to play and I lost heavily when I moved overseas with my husband to continue reaching college students for Christ.

For several years since college, I battled with what I would later find out were seizures along with my immune system crashing while I was in Italy. It stripped me of all that I was used to.

I wasn’t the best at sharing the redemptive plan of God’s love in Italian. I wasn’t the best at mentoring girls, or the best at hosting people, or the best prayer warrior. I was just somewhere in the middle. My capacity was lower than it had ever been. I couldn’t do much. I had to sleep often and suffered seizures.

I felt like I had nothing to offer to God. I felt worthless.

In Italy and even several months after that, I realized that when I lost my sense of performing for God, I lost my sense of self. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I had put so much of my identity in what I could do for God that I missed over and over again that I could live in freedom because what Jesus had done for me.

I realized it was the complete opposite. I didn’t have to perform. I could share about the love of God out of my joy from spending time with Him. It wouldn’t be a burden. My self worth was found in what He did for me, not what I could do for Him.

For so long I had strived to be an extraordinary person so that the world would remember me and be changed for the better.

If I was being honest with myself, some of the most spirit-led people I have ever met were not known by the masses. They walked faithfully with God in the ordinary moments of everyday when no one was looking. And, if someone did get the privilege to be a witness to their life, they would be left with a feeling of seeing something truly extraordinary: someone loving others sacrificially, serving with a grateful heart and no recognition, listening patiently to each person and not worrying about a to do list, but caring for each person one at a time to show Christ to them.

In Matthew 25:14-29, I noticed an observation that I had missed in the parable of the five talents.

In the story, there is a master who was going away and gave five talents to one man, two to the next, and one talent to the last man. Both of the men with the five talents and the two talents doubled the share, but the man with the one talent went and buried his. The master told the first two men, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” However, the master threw out the last man into the weeping and gnashing of teeth for doing absolutely nothing with his one talent.

When I read this, I mostly focus on the man with the five talents and the other with the one talent. Of course, no one wants to get thrown out into the weeping and gnashing of teeth. In contrast, everyone wants to get entrusted with the most from the master.

But, what about the guy who received two talents and faithfully doubled his share?

If it were me at distribution time and I received two talents, I would have gladly accepted the talents and then pulled the master aside afterwards and said, “Master thank you so much for entrusting me with more than one talent, but, why didn’t you give me the most talents?”

I want to be perceived as the best, but this man was completely content with what the master gave him. He put on his horse blinders and faithfully did his part not worrying about the others. And the master still rewarded him with the same affirmation.

I long to be like the person with the two talents. He was faithful even in the middle of the pack compared to others. And, that is exactly what God desires of me.

In those long months on the couch and seeing a ton of doctors, I learned to follow Jesus on a deeper level than before. I had an incredible opportunity to spend more time with Him in His word than I ever had. I learned more of His character and how He delighted in me.

And, I had not lifted a finger to work.

He slowly began to change my view of work and my identity as I found myself caring less about what the world deems successful and more about walking faithfully with God.

As a people pleaser, I still struggle with this daily. But I’ve noticed a considerable change. I’m not cured from this struggle but I am fully confident that God is continuing to complete a good work in me. He’s not giving up on me.

I now know that I could spend a lifetime sitting on a couch learning more about how to walk faithfully with Christ everyday and he would be absolutely delighted in me. But the more I know Him, I can’t help but share with others who He is. I still want to spend everyday telling others about the hope we have in Christ.

The only difference is that my motive has changed. I share the gospel with others because I get the privilege to do so. Not because I have to in order to earn God’s approval. It doesn’t matter what life stage, job or circumstance you are in, we all get to do this in joy.

At the end of the road, we will see that there is nothing more extraordinary than the calling to be followers of Christ in the ordinary life.

Carmen Rae Huang 

Related Posts