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The Secret of True Success

by Melissa B. Kruger


From the beginning of parenthood, often while babies are growing in the womb, we begin to imagine the life we want for our children and who they will become. As kids grow into teens, their unique personalities, strengths, and weaknesses start to crystalize. At the same time, parents often find themselves suddenly battling their own insecurities, painful memories, and unmet expectations. It’s tempting to try to live vicariously through their teen’s experiences. We create a grand vision for our children from their earliest days—one filled with various successes, comforts, and completed benchmarks. Our hopes and dreams for their success sometimes eclipse one of the best gifts we can give our children: to root ourselves firmly in Christ, abiding in Him for the strength and wisdom we need, allowing Him alone to set the measure of success.


When our vision for our lives and the lives of our children centers on Christ, we find that we want something more than this world can offer. Our dreams are bigger than the world’s dreams for our kids, and we don’t put our hope in money, fame, and success. We want our children to know Jesus, to love Him, and to spend their lives knowing Him more. Christianity isn’t about limiting our pursuits to lesser hopes, it’s about pursuing true riches. Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly—He wants to give us more, not less, out of life.

But the world is shouting misguided messages at us and our kids, telling us the abundant life is ours for the taking—we just have to work harder, be better, and dream bigger to attain what we want out of life.  These messages sound empowering. However, words meant to inspire end up exhausting us. They leave us chasing every rabbit trail of success, only to find feelings of failure or emptiness greeting us at the end of the road. And, too often, our kids get mixed up in our pursuits. Their successes become our successes, and their failures become our failures.


This hyper fixation on worldly success is prominent in the arena of scholastic achievement. You want to create lifelong learners who enjoy knowing about and understanding the world God created, but too often, grades get in the way of education. If the goal is a true education and not straight A’s, let your home be a place where character is primary, hard work is celebrated, and stress about grades is kept to a minimum. Grades do not define your child. Getting into top schools does not equate to a successful life.


I know this is hard advice to hear, but it needs to be said: Let your teen fail. Let them make mistakes. And, let them experience the consequences. They’ll learn more from receiving a bad grade on the paper they waited too long to write than if you wrote it for them. Teens are learning important life lessons, and it’s helpful for them to understand that making mistakes and dealing with consequences is a part of life. These are the character-building moments that teens must trek through as they develop into adulthood.


When we think about educating our children, it’s important to remember our ultimate goal: We want our children to know and love Jesus. That’s what we want for them out of life. It’s not an elite college degree or a high-paying job. We want to let all that they are learning point them to the God who created all things.


If we want to be parents who keep the main thing (Jesus) the main thing, it’s going to be a battle—in our own hearts. And that starts with considering the ways our idols affect our views of academic achievement, winning in sports, and a variety of other measures of cultural success.


It’s tempting for us to want our kids to succeed according to worldly measures—their accomplishments make us feel accomplished. It’s difficult to sit through award ceremonies and watch other families celebrate achievements when your kid is never called to the platform. In those moments, remind yourself (and your teen) that most of us live pretty ordinary lives, and that faithfulness to God is of greater value. That’s a beautiful reality. We don’t have to be the best at everything. We don’t have to be the valedictorian to succeed in the kingdom of God. Our goal is to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant…Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21). God wants us to be faithful with the gifts and talents He’s given to us, not to work hard to be like someone else.


In a world that is shouting at our kids that they have to be exceptional in their pursuits, it’s important that we remind our children daily, “You are exceptional because you are made in the image of God. You are deeply loved not because of what you do, but because of what Jesus did for you. God wants to make you more like Jesus and glorify Himself through you.” We need to keep this message on repeat, and believe it for ourselves as well.


The antidote to pursuing worldly success—the love of money, fame and achievement—isn’t to forsake all these things. The antidote is to love God more. When God is properly worshipped in our hearts, our propensity toward idolatry will diminish. When we cling tightly to God and trust in him, he will lead and guide our lives. This is the secret to true success in the Christian life. And this is life abundant. 

Melissa B. Kruger is vice president of discipleship programming at The Gospel Coalition and author of multiple books, including Growing Together, Walking with God in the Season of Motherhood, and the popular children’s book Wherever You Go, I Want You to Know. Her husband, Mike, is the president of Reformed Theological Seminary, and they are the parents of three adult children in Charlotte, North Carolina.


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