An Encouraging Word — Measuring success

Father J. Ronald Knott
Father J. Ronald Knott

How can we thank God for all the joy we feel on your account?  I Thessalonians 3:9

When you get to be 73 years old, you find yourself looking back at your life and seriously considering the measure of your success.

I have concluded, after much thought, that if I have had any success, it is mostly invisible. Unlike most people who can “leave something behind,” I have no children, no fortune and no monument to leave to make sure I am remembered.

In my consideration of these things, some words from American poet, Maya Angelou, come to mind. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I have this hunch that if I am remembered, it will probably be for how I made people feel.

This hunch is validated by the people I have served while pastor, as well as the people who regularly read this column. I have kept several boxes of notes, cards and letters from people who have expressed how I have made them feel on this or that occasion. I don’t have the practice of reading through them regularly, because I don’t need to, but I do save them for the day I will. 

Here are some recurring words I have heard from people. “You made me feel….hopeful, forgiven, loved, acceptable, thankful, welcomed and included.” They had no reason to lie, so I must conclude that my ministry has been somewhat “successful.”

Parents: Your children may forget what you said and what you did, but they will not forget how you made them feel. Here the words of Pablo Casals, world-famous cellist, come to mind. “The child must know that he is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world there hasn’t been, and until the end of the world will not be, another child like him.”

Priests: Your parishioners may forget what you said and what you did, but they will not forget how you made them feel. Here the words of Pope Francis from “The Joy of the Gospel” come to mind. “Another feature of a good homily is that it is positive. It is not so much concerned with pointing out what shouldn’t be done, but with suggesting what can be done better. In any case, if it does draw attention to something negative, it will also attempt to point to a positive and attractive value, lest it remain mired in complaints, laments, criticisms and reproaches.”

Partners in marriage: Your spouse may forget what you said and what you did, but they will not forget how you made them feel. Christian spouses “help each other to attain to holiness,” Pope Paul VI wrote in “Lumen Gentium.” In the giving and receiving of kindness, encouragement and affirmation, an increase in happiness, as well as holiness, is possible.

How you make other people feel about themselves says a lot about you.

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