Success vs. Fruitfulness


I have a book called "Bread for the Journey" by my favorite spiritual author, Henri Nouwen. It's a daybook, meaning that it has a little reflection for every day of the year. The other day, I was paging through it when an excerpt caught my eye. Henri was reflecting on successfulness vs fruitfulness. I have never thought about the difference in meaning between these two words, but now it's something that I won't forget and it ties in with yesterday’s gospel. Here is what Henri wrote:

"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."

To me, successfulness is empty, and in a way selfish, without deep purpose, and lacking in significant substance. Fruitfulness on the other hand comes from within. It's the result of sharing our hearts with one another, being vulnerable and open to pain and joy. It's personal and communal growth. For a person/business/marriage/friendship to be fruitful, there must be a willingness to be last, “If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all." (Mk 9:35) There must be a willingness to be vulnerable in communication, to be attentive to the needs of others.

As I pondered this, I promised myself that I would never put success over fruitfulness. True joy comes not in having all the riches of the world, but in serving one another out of love and forming community. This is my goal.

Photo by: Codi Shandel Photography

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