You don’t have to look very far to find a book, blog, podcast, or whatnot, that will tell you how to overcome your failures. They are important messages on how your failures are not what define you. I have even written about it. However, there is another side. It’s a side that can be just as debilitating — overcoming our past triumphs.
“We’ve all seen those guys (it’s girls too) who are still holding on to their glory days. All the stories that they tell are from when they were back in High School or College. They talk about their awards, athletic prowess, and their youthful romances (usually there is very little romance involved).
You know what I’m talking about.
The guy who talks about how he was the starting running back and how he was the biggest and the baddest, and still acts as though he is. Yet, he probably couldn’t run a block, let alone through one!
There is the woman who talks about how she used to party and all the guys wanted her. Yet, though that was twenty years ago, she’s still partying just the same, and that lifestyle is damaging her career, marriage, and children.”Hidden Faces: Discovering our true identity in Christ
Whether it is a professional, academic, athletic, beauty, or whatever arena you find yourself, the success you once had can be crippling as you move on to the next chapter of your life. We can become dependent on being the top dog or the best looking, the strongest, smartest, richest in the crowd, or maybe we achieve our goal—no matter what it is that we have depended on to find our self worth, the success can be just as damning as the failure.
Where do I go next?
Did I peak too early?
What if I’m not good at anything else?
We wonder and too often can become crippled. We can chase the next thing we can succeed at, ending up just like a dog with its tail.
What I find happens is that one of two things. 1) We live and want to relive our past success. Just like the people I spoke of earlier, we tell the same stories over and over, trying to recapture what is lost. We either live in a delusion that we are still as we once were, or we realize how far away we truly are and fall into despair. Or 2) We chase what’s next, trying desperately to find the next triumph we can use to define ourselves.
What we find at the end of the day is that the victories and success can be just as cementing as our failures.
Whether triumph or failure, the risk of defining ourselves by what has happened is an alluring temptation, it’s is also a trap.
In ancient Jewish wisdom literature, the book of Ecclesiastes lays out what happens when we depend on our success to fulfill and define our lives.
“I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;Ecclesiastes 2:4-11
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.”
So what do we do? How do we overcome our triumphs—as strange as that sounds?
The answer, the same way we overcome our failures. We realize that what has happened isn’t who we are. We are more than failures and successes. What defines us isn’t looks, accomplishments, or whatever other things you can fathom. What determines our value is whose we are. And whose are we? We are children of God whom He loves dearly.
We can set the bar high, and we don’t have to worry because even if at one time we were known for success and even if we fail, it is God who determines our value. We can risk the ocean in pursuit of what we love because, in triumph or defeat, God’s love is spread upon our hearts indiscriminately. We can move forward into the unknown, knowing that whatever happens isn’t what determines our value.
Triumphs are just as hard to overcome. As soon as we let whatever past success we once had, stop us from pursuing what is on the next horizon, it becomes a failure. In the same way, failure is only a failure if it prevents us from what’s next — no matter which end, we must overcome. We must push past—drive-through—move forward into what God and life have for us.
Please don’t live in the Glory Days, let’s overcome our past triumphs.
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