Success for a secular person is not the same as success for a Christian. In most cases, they are diametrically opposed, because worldly success always revolves around a material gain or achievement while Christian success revolves around a spiritual gain that benefits a person’s soul. Since becoming a Christian, my secular successes have dried up to the point where, in the eyes of the world, I am a failure, but spiritually, it is no longer a certainty that I will be condemned by God for eternity.
When I was of the world, the main device I used to achieve benefits was salesmanship through effort and persistence. I would make “sales calls” on the objects of my desire with obsessive dedication. To achieve fornication, I kept talking to girls until I found one who was willing. To gain fame, I simply kept inserting myself into the zeitgeist with controversial statements that weren’t precisely the truth. To gain money, I kept pumping out pickup books for men who were desirous of carnal passions. To gain fleeting happiness, I kept traveling to new cities or countries whenever I’d feel bored. To those of the world, I was a success because I was receiving measurable benefits, and it helped that my material pursuits formed synergies that encouraged me to continue (e.g., my fame helped me meet women and my pursuit of novelty helped me write books that increased my income). Due to my fallen nature, inherent genetic gifts, and support from the demons, as long as I kept working towards sinful ends, I couldn’t fail.
I’ve since replaced the will to chase worldly things with God’s will. Some may think the same rules apply, that probability and hard work are the main drivers of achieving spiritual “success,” but I haven’t found that to be the case. Spiritual success transcends human biology and statistical probability and may only be made aware to you by God after the fact, not in the process of perceiving a sort of spiritual feat or achievement. In other words, I’m not quite sure if the life events and experiences happening to me right now, good or bad, will end up being spiritually beneficial or not. I may have to wait weeks, months, or even years to measure their effects on my faith, whether it was increased or decreased, and only then can I declare an achievement a “success,” but I still wouldn’t do so because how could I claim it as a success achieved by my own hand when it was given to me by God? As an Orthodox Christian, the word success has begun to lose all meaning, and I only use it to condescend to those who are outcome-oriented.
It’s no surprise that events which have been spiritually successful for me have been abject failures in the material sense. For example, in the past, I never had problems finding a place to live. I’ve rented dozens of rooms and apartments, and only when my reputation as a “pro-rape advocate” hit Google did I hit some comical snags that in the end were manageable. But since becoming a Christian, I can’t seem to settle down. It’s been two-and-a-half years since I received God’s grace and I write this article from the confines of my mother’s apartment, and yet it’s while living with her that the path to being received in the Orthodox Church opened for me. To most of the world I am middle-aged loser, and yet my faith keeps growing, and my salvation is more assured.
As long as I maintain my faith during a stretch of material failure, my faith will be increased, while periods of material success that lead to comfort will have the opposite effect. Therefore I’ve had to reformulate how I approach “failure,” the definition of which was cemented into my brain from secular life, and how to gain the will to proceed with a spiritually profitable task where material failure is inevitable. Satan’s success and God’s success are different, so it would make sense that all the outcomes that happen as you go from worshiping one to the other will also begin to change in shape and meaning.
In my short life as a Christian, I’ve observed that to succeed with God is to fail with the world, or to be rejected by it, and to succeed with the world is to fail with God, but we are not of the world because Lord Jesus Christ chose us out of the world. He may give us blessings to be materially sated, especially if we have mouths to feed, but only up to a point where it’s needed in your fallen weakness to serve Him. If you can endure abject poverty, and in that poverty He knows you will become more saint-like, poverty is what you will get as long as you keep telling him, “Thy will be done, not mine.” If you are instead a hero of your time, the envy of all, and the faithless rush to you to learn how to achieve your sins, you are not receiving your success from God.
According to the world, I’m a has-been who fell from the heights of sexual glory. I live with my mother, my income is a fraction of what it used to be, I don’t have huge muscles, I don’t sexually attract women, and I am unable to tell you a single interesting or novel story of something I’ve done in the past week that doesn’t involve watching birds—and not even handsome birds but common house sparrows—and yet my faith is deepening. God is pouring out his grace upon me. I am meeting more devout Christians and they’re helping me stay on the right path. God knows what I need to be saved, and it’s not the things that I can measure and count as when I was pursuing vice. Material success leads nowhere if it is disconnected from God; serving Him fully in this life and the next is the only success that matters.
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