Sometimes we talk about success a little selfishly. We're content if we have it; resentful if we don't; and uncertain what it really looks like to pursue as Christians. Put simply, I think success in life is more about others than we realize.
Reaching out to each other, bridging gaps, loving in ways only possible with Jesus. Healing and helping and hoping in Jesus. Communicating and connecting as we remove barriers that try to contain us and hinder our love.
Sure, accomplishing a goal or achieving something new is fun and exciting. But is it really worth anything, is it really success, if it's all for us? If we live to grow and learn all without thought to doing it with or for someone else, what's the point?
A couple weeks before we return to the states from Mongolia, our friends all get together, and I'm going to be late because I have a class to teach. Meeting up with them later means my first taxi ride alone. The first time the weight of the language barrier rests on me, and it truly matters if the other person understands me because no one is around to translate or correct my mispronunciation.
When a taxi pulls up, I slide into the back seat and carefully articulate where I need him to take me. He nods with a mumbled "zah" in affirmation. Success.
Glancing back in the rear-view mirror, he asks if I speak Mongolian.
I reply, "A little."
He grins wide clarifying, "Oh, a lot" as if I had claimed to be fluent.
I catch his hint of a joke, and restate for emphasis, hoping I don't regret admitting even that.
He asks where I'm from.
I say America.
I'm surprised that he nods knowingly when a couple more questions and answers clarify that I'm from Tennessee. (Or was at the time.)
He asks why I'm in Ulaanbaatar.
I say with a church teaching English. (It's the easiest explanation.)
He's surprised because I look too young.
And so the conversation continues, him asking simple questions, me giving short answers, he sometimes giving a response and affirmative smile between questions. All in Mongolian.
When I get to my destination, I pay him and thank him as I leave. He wishes me well. And I walk a little calmer feeling my Mongolian experience is now complete.
After nine months, I had been looking back with some regrets and self-doubt and wondering if the experience was a success. I didn't convert anyone from Buddhism to Christianity. I didn't make a native BFF. I didn't actually teach anyone English. I quit Mongolian language tutoring after a couple weeks, and I didn't even really complete my junior year coursework.
But we, the cab driver and I, had a complete, albeit simple, conversation in Mongolian. A tiny reassurance that I didn't just come to this foreign land, hermit-ing myself inside. I came, I saw, I shopped and learned and interacted. And somehow, by the end, I even found myself communicating a little in their language.
It seems maybe if that's all I'm able to do in my life--be fully present wherever Jesus leads me--that maybe that's enough. Maybe it's enough to see and learn and grow and interact until a barrier has been taken down. Until, by God's grace, we're speaking each other's language and connecting in real ways.
That's an epic success I'm finding worth pursuing.
Answer in the comments:
Can you think of a time your success seemed to be less about you and more about connecting with others?
Day 27 of 31 Lessons from an Epic Beginner