"A Sanctuary in the City… Living Faith"
accomplishment and purpose climbing mountains

Beyond Individual Accomplishment

It’s good to feel accomplished. Daily lists. Project plans. Long-term goals. I feel happy when making progress. I love efficiency! By contrast, I feel stress increase when frustrations, complications, or simply stagnation sets in. And when successful completion comes, I feel energized to analyze and identify what’s next. I know, in part, this reflects my personality type. For me, it’s about things like Sunday worship, congregational programs, community problems; the daily commute or a pilgrimage journey.

And I expect that, each in our way, we all feel this drive to accomplish, to succeed. In our workplaces and work-out routines. In our life journey through dreams and desires, hobbies and aging bodies. In our vision for community and country, all humans look for meaning and purpose. And cultural messages often tell us we’re valuable and good enough, even lovable … when we’ve accomplished something. When we’ve acquired things. When we’ve earned recognition and proved that we are worthy.

Cultivating responsible commitment and dedication is good. That’s what we want in our children with school grades. That’s what we need to make our businesses, our church, our community thrive. I believe God calls each person to discern such purpose, and be so empowered. And yet, for true deep and lasting peace, I believe our hearts and minds and spirits need to be drawn beyond our selves, whatever our successes or stumbles along the way in life.

The Bible is filled with people being called by God. This week we read stories of Samuel among the ancient Hebrews, coupled with Jesus’s baptism and his calling the first disciples. “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening,” Samuel says. “Come, follow me, and I will make you fish for people,” Jesus invites. In every instance, especially clear in Jesus himself, people are called to do something, to envision possibilities, to pursue goals and plans for the benefit of others in community. It’s about far more than themselves alone. Our personal calls arise out of and always exist within the context of loving relationship with God and others.

Now, that alone is no radical new insight. Still, in my own life and as I’ve listened to others and thought about our society in recent weeks, here are a few implications that we might do well to ponder again.

  1. Our value as human beings is not ultimately defined by what we accomplish. That’s good news we need to hear when it seems we failed in some task at work or in conversation with beloved family. That’s good news when pressures in life build—as we aim for the next promotion, or consider the legacy we might leave.
  2. Goodness, happiness, satisfaction will never ultimately be fulfilled by centering on our desires, even our needs alone. That’s good news we need to hear when difficulties abound or successes and comforts seem hollow. That good news calls us again, with Jesus, in sacrificial loving service to touch other people with grace and spread God’s reign of peace in our world.
  3. The history of creation, the future of our community and world will be shaped by forces of Sacred Purpose far beyond any one person. That’s good news to awe and humble us when we wander amid ancient structures, or gather in holy sanctuaries old and newly built, or when we consider cycles of challenge and blessing through particular work before us in any given moment.

At Jesus’ baptism, the beginning of his ministry, a heavenly voice affirms “You are my beloved child, with whom I am well-pleased.” Before he’s gone anywhere. Before he’s done anything. And then his first act of ministry is to call a group of others to share his life and purpose. That holy promise settles on all of us at our baptism—at once so deeply intimate and so widely communal. We are God’s beloved children. That defines who are. All our abilities and energy flow from the power of love pulsing within each of us.

Jesus and the disciples went many places and accomplished much. They lived in response to Holy Love received, without earning it. Amid our daily routines how can we be called beyond our selves and committed to Sacred Purpose revealed in Jesus Christ? As we go another step on our life journey with all our lists, plans, dreams, beyond individual accomplishment, how can we find goodness in life together? Most importantly, through all our successes and stumbles, how can remember we are God’s beloved, and so relieve some pressure, ever assessing life by that promise? In response, as we’re drawn to relationships and our world in widest awe-inspiring scope, may we be filled with some measure of joy and peace.

Grace and Peace,