Watching Julie & Julia. Julie, almost 30, a desk jockey who fields complaints in a call center, is sitting in a New York City restaurant lost among her very successful and self-important friends. Her sense of failure and self-loathing overwhelms. Scene changes to a cramped apartment in Queens where Julie is cooking and complaining about her friend Annabelle’s success as a blogger. “I could write a blog,” she says. “I have thoughts.”
Perhaps I need a blog. Julie ends up getting a movie out of hers.
Sitting around our kitchen table eating dinner. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” we ask the kids.
“I want to be successful,” my son answers without hesitation.
“What does it mean to be successful?” we probe.
“It means you make a lot of money.”
I’m signing up for Facebook. I’ve been avoiding it, certain that it would prove an addicting time drain. Not certain that I want to enter that universe. I spend an inordinate amount of time choosing a profile picture. Flattering but not flaunting, just the right angle, head shot only. Because you never know – people you haven’t seen in more than 20 years are probably going to find you. Perhaps I should just post an old picture of me as a kid? Nah. I don’t fill out much information about myself. Just my school, because that looks good.
The picture I choose is 3 years old.
But I look good.
Later in Julie & Julia, Julia Child is sitting in a Paris restaurant with her diplomat husband, Paul. She is in her 40’s and childless. Paul has an important job at the embassy. “But what should I do?” she asks Paul plaintively, stabbing the words with her fork. “The wives here do nothing.” She’s not “Julia Child” yet.
I’m wasting time on Facebook, exactly as I predicted, tempted into looking up all kinds of obscure acquaintances from my past. Most are living an average life, working average jobs; some are “doing nothing.” But then I come across one or two that are living an above average life, doing exciting things. Looking very successful by many standards.
And they look great in their profile picture.
I’m not happy for them. I feel bad about that.
“Is making a lot of money the only way to be successful?” we ask our son. He shrugs sheepishly, getting the sense that he might have given the wrong answer.
We are at a memorial service for a beloved man who died unexpectedly. We hear how much he loved his family, how he sacrificed for them, how he called them every day. We hear from his kids how much they loved him and appreciated him. His grandkids tell us how much they loved him. His son-in-law and daughter-in-law tell us how much they loved him. His wife is crushed by the pain of her loss because she loved him so much.
He didn’t make a lot of money. But he knew how to love well. And he was so well loved. A successful life.
We leave the service wishing we had been a part of his family.
What does it mean to be successful? Do we need to have high powered jobs with big salaries? Do we need to achieve celebrity and recognition? Do we need a blog? Do we need a really great picture on Facebook with an impressive list of credentials and experiences? What do we need to do? What should I do? I challenge my son’s notion that success is measured by money and then I realize I am working with the same measuring stick, just with different units of measurement. He measures by money, I measure by looks and achievement; you might measure by something else.
What does God measure by?
“The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
What are our hearts like? This is the question that matters. Do we love well? Do people want to be a part of our family?
“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
Jennifer Zach lives in Ahwatukee Foothills with her husband and three children. They are members of Bridgeway Community Church. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.