What Success in the Spiritual Life Looks Like

When it comes to our education, our career, our finances, or our parenting we have certain goals and metrics for success. But what does success look like when it comes to the spiritual life?

Recently on  St. Joseph’s Workshop, Father Matthew Spencer, OSJ discussed how we should – and shouldn’t – measure our spiritual success. He said:

“I want to look at what metric you use to evaluate your spiritual life on any given day, at any given time. Because we do this for many other parts of our life. We do it in our career, we do it as a parent … what is it about being a Christian, though, that can help you to know whether you are doing God’s will or not?

First of all, let’s work out a definition, or an idea of success. … Being financially secure, being emotionally secure, being surrounded by admirers – some people might say that that is success. But when you look at your own spiritual life, those aren’t always there, are they? Jesus is so clear about this. They are going to treat you the same way they treated Jesus and His disciples. So people will not always respect you, will not always admire you. In fact, sometimes people will vilify you for being a Christian and following Jesus. So that’s not the metric that you’re going to use.

Let’s look at Mark 8, starting with verse 34. Jesus summoned the crowd, with His disciples, and He said to them, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, and that of the Gospel, will save it. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?’

In other words, the classic understanding of success in a worldly sense doesn’t work when it comes to the spiritual life. It’s not like you amass a certain amount of wealth, spiritually or in grace, and then can cash that in and compare that. In fact, the spiritual life is all about emptying ourselves. And fundamentally, it’s about laying down our life for others. That’s a difficult thing to gauge in life.

Success is not measured by the accomplishments, or even by the feelings or the experiences that we have spiritually. Because, let’s face it, sometimes our spiritual lives can be rather dark, rather confusing. We can feel abandoned, isolated. I’m thinking of Mother Teresa herself, who was very holy, who gave herself so fully, so carefully to the Lord. Yet she experienced desolation for many years of her life.

I think her words are very wise. She said, ‘God has not called me to be successful. He has called me to be faithful.’ I think it puts this whole idea on its head. Success in the spiritual life is not success at all compared to worldly values. Instead, it’s about faithfulness at every moment.

And why I bring it up is to ask you how you are doing in that faithfulness. … Really, the success is indicated by how faithful we are at any given moment. And this is true in parenting, in being a husband or a wife, it’s true for me in my priesthood and in being an Oblate of St. Joseph, and being faithful in what God is asking me to do at this very moment.

That’s a difficult thing to look at, isn’t it? And sometimes we shy away and say, ‘I don’t know if I want to evaluate if I’m faithful right now. I’d rather look to the past, to those times when I know I was, or when I felt very faithful.’

Let’s try to live in the present moment a little more often. Let’s try to recognize that God wants you to be faithful right now. Right now, the success of this moment depends on you being faithful, it depends on you following the Lord and saying yes to Him right now.”

Listen to the full reflection below:

St. Joseph’s Workshop with Father Matthew Spencer airs weekdays at 7:00 p.m. Eastern/4:00 p.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App.

Stephanie Foley serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied journalism, and she has worked in Catholic radio for 12 years. Stephanie is a wife, a mother of three boys, and in her free time she enjoys reading, running, and really good coffee. You can find more of Stephanie’s writing at relevantradio.com and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.