You can tell a lot about a person by what he or she has on his or her desk. I learned this pretty quickly at my new 9 to 5 job at the Colson Center.
A person with a lot of child-produced art projects, for example, probably values family; someone with an undecorated workspace perhaps works mostly from home, while one with an adorned area probably spends a considerable amount of time at the office. And, if a person has sticky notes all around her desk, that girl may have poor memory . . . or maybe is just a little overwhelmed at her new job :). Whatever the case may be, I firmly believe that a desk tells a lot about a person.
And so, when I had the privilege of going into Mr. Colson’s office during my first day of work, I wasn’t at all surprised when I saw the sign “Faithfulness Not Success” on his desk. Although admirable, it certainly wasn’t the “coolest” item in his office. Yet, out of everything in his personal sanctuary -- including a note from Mother Teresa, C. S. Lewis’s pipe, and a letter from President Nixon -- that sign became etched in my brain. I spent the next few days dwelling on this idea, wondering why I was obsessing over these words. And then I realized why:
It reminded me of personal struggles. It reminded me of Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for man.” A Bible verse brings to my mind personal struggles? Let me explain.
I’m a perfectionist. It’s one of my strengths, and it’s one of my weaknesses. Bosses love me for it, and friends hate me for it (well, not really, but you get the point). And, until recently, I used Colossians 3:23 as a copout. In my mind, God wanted me to be a perfectionist so that I could use it for His glory. People would look at me and say, “She’s perfect, and since she has Jesus, I want Jesus too.” But, let’s get real -- that wasn’t my motivation; it was my excuse. My perfectionism got so bad, in fact, that I struggled with an eating disorder in middle school; I wanted the perfect body, so anorexia was a natural result. I ate as if Jesus were my nutritionist, and worked out as if He were my trainer. That seemed to flow into my obsessing over grades; I studied as if Jesus were my teacher (and with seven classes, that got pretty exhausting). I practiced volleyball for hours a day as if He were my coach. I cleaned my room as if Jesus were my parent inspecting it. I was exhausted with trying to keep up this “perfect” lifestyle.
And, when all of this perfectionism came crashing down -- including a denial letter from Yale, a fractured tibia in volleyball, and an undesirable relationship with my parents -- I was confused. If I did all of those things as if working for the Lord and not for man, then why wasn’t God blessing me? I later realized the reason: I was striving for success, not faithfulness. It took all of those hardships to realize my inability to live a perfect life.
Perfectionism made me strive for success, but as I said, I used Colossians 3:23 to make it seem as if I was striving for faithfulness. Not only did I want the perfect looks, grades, sports career, and family, I also wanted the perfect relationship with God. I soon realized, however, that there is no such thing. It didn’t matter how many Christian books I read, Bible verses I memorized, praise songs I listened to, church services I attended, Bible studies I led, because only Christ had the perfect relationship with God.
So, I’ll admit it: As silly as this sounds, I confused faithfulness with success. Ironically, I think this may be especially easy to do in a predominantly Christian environment. In a church, it’s easy to confuse the positive role of getting more attendance with the negative role of being “all about numbers.” In ministry, it may be easy to confuse leading more people to Christ with just “names” to add to the records. It’s easy, as I did and still sometimes do, to use Colossians 3:23 as a defense.
And, I think Mr. Colson knew this, which is why he had that sign staring him in the face every day: “Faithfulness Not Success.” It’s a great reminder of our ultimate goal, and I think it’s a great tribute to him to strive for faithfulness rather than success daily.