"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."
I just totally hacked this quote from a lovely lady's blog; "Not Quite Mary Poppins" (isn't that sweet?) at Crazy Acres. Before you read on here you must promise to visit her when you are done, and show her a little bloggy love since I stole from her so blatantly.
I was visiting her just now, and when I read this quote on her sidebar I was struck by its wisdom. Success or fruitfulness. What is it that I truly seek?
If I am honest I will admit that I desire both. I want worldly success. I want to sell books and publish articles. I want to speak at conferences and do radio interviews. I want to be liked and admired for my intelligence, talent and wit. I want to be appreciated, and I want to see visible signs of that appreciation.
I also long for fruits. I want my sufferings to yield a bountiful harvest. I want my children to grow up loving the Lord, they being the best fruits I have to offer. If fruits truly come from weakness and vulnerability, as Nouwen says, I should be experiencing them bountifully, right? Because lately all I glory in are my tender points, my paper-thin skin, my quivering upper lip.
Nouwen doesn't mention if our fruits must be seen or experienced by us to bring us joy. Perhaps their existence brings us grace even if they remain hidden, only to be revealed to us in some distant space. (Heaven?)
I'm struggling. I have seen and felt, truly, some of the specific fruits that old Henri mentions. I know the community of brokenness, the intimacy of tending wounds. I have been so blessed by my children that it takes my breath away.
I've known success, as well, but the problem with success is that it is never, ever enough. It is inherently insufficient. What I achieve today pales tomorrow. My work will become nothingness, even though I've vainly convinced myself God wants to use it for His glory.
My friend Kate (how did I merit such a wonderful cyber-friend?) quotes Amy Welborn today on her blog - about writing.
She says "...I've learned some important lessons about faith from writing. Writing involves courage in sharing from deep within, without any certainty that it will do a bit of good. It involves a lot of waiting without a concrete reason to hope."
My heart and my words are intertwined, and on some occasions, like today, I just have to be courageous. Courageous without certainty....waiting....waiting.
I don't know if my longings for success and fruitfulness can be effectively balanced, nor am I confident of the path I have chosen. My fear is that I will be neither successful nor fruitful, just overcome with busyness, frantically doing and working and striving and always coming up short.
Welborn's words continue with thoughts on our Christian faith: "It strikes me that being a disciple of Jesus is also about stepping forward and waiting - every day. Holding on tight to the promise that its fulfillment - and our joy - will surely come."
There's that word again - joy. So joy comes from fruitfulness, from promises fulfilled. (And all this time I thought it came from seeing comments on my posts!) I am so far from Nouwen's mysticism and Welborn's wisdom that I find only sadness today in pondering the truth. It is quite easy to live a life that is neither successful nor fruitful, and if I am not careful, my selfishness will seal that.
Nouwen believed that what is most personal is also universal. It is in that spirit that I write today, hoping that I might heal and be healed by the sharing.