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There’s a commercial making the rounds (for an investment firm, I believe) that asks, “How do you measure success?” The point being, you ought to be saving for your retirement so that you can do bucket list-y things like climb rocks or volunteer teach. But there is a finer point to be discussed: What makes a life successful?

Is it the accumulation of money or things? As nice as things can be, they cannot be taken with you after you shuffle off this mortal coil. (Unless you’re a pharaoh, and even then, tomb robbing can really put a dent in your feline sarcophagi collection.) People talk about “successful businessmen.” I assume they mean a person who has made more than he’s lost. But often that’s not really the case. The “successful businessman” has often accomplished his feats through financial manipulation, the sweat of other people’s brows, or outright chicanery. That doesn’t spell “success” to me. More like “not caught in the act and appropriately punished.”

So what is success? I posit to you that it means being a good person. Specifically, if you were to die tomorrow, could others remember one good deed you did? It’s not as easy as it sounds. Start digging and see what you come up with: “I loved my parents” (except when you didn’t); “I gave to charity” (sometimes, and maybe only for the tax break); “I cared about the environment” (unless you’re that one young woman who hasn’t created any garbage in three years — and you’re an American — you probably flunk this one outright); “I wasn’t actively hurtful to people” (congratulations, you’ve lived up to the minimum requirement for morality). The list, disappointingly, goes on.

I don’t say these things to make you feel bad, Unspecified Reader. I put myself through this test and came up with a review not much to my liking. Most of us have not done one shining, unselfish deed in our whole lives. Mostly we do good because it makes us feel good. But is that enough?

Is it enough to require of ourselves that we more often do right than wrong? Will our lives be summed up on an old-timey scale, balancing the good against the bad? Will it take more than a preponderance of evidence to convict or acquit us in the final scheme of things?

I think we were put on this earth to be our best selves, to live up to our God-given potential not as athletes or businesspeople or celebrities, but as fully functioning, empathetic, loving humans. And whatever we do that does not push us closer to that goal is probably a diversion at best and a trap at worst.

So, I put it to you: Are you a success? Have you done one good thing? Name it.

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This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Most of us think about Lent as a period of self denial. Deprive yourself of something you love. Somehow mirror the sacrifice that Christ made for us all.

Just a few years ago, my friend Becky told me about a new Lenten practice started by her priest. He encourages his congregation to focus on developing a good habit instead.

Think about it.

What if everyone who gave up chocolate or coffee or pizza, did something good in the name of Christ? Times are hard and you probably don’t have the money it would take to make a daily donation but consider the possibilities.

Pray for someone.
Each day of Lent, pick someone you know who is going through difficult times. Pray for them. Whether or not you let them know is up to you but imagine how many days you would brighten with a quick e-mail. “Today, I am celebrating Lent and honoring Christ by praying for you. May God Bless you this day.”

Look someone in the eye, actually see them and speak to them.
That’s what Ruth did the other day when she had to have her car inspected. She could have driven off in a huff but she paid enough attention to the staffer to see his side of things and she acknowledged him. Really acknowledged him. Call a checker by name when you thank them for helping you. Use the waiter’s name when you hand him your credit card. Let someone who is often publicly invisible while doing their job know that you SEE them.

Pass on good news.
So often, the news we watch and read is bad. When someone says, “Did you hear about Jane?” you can be fairly certain that the scoop is not going to be positive. Instead of joining the negative throng, make a point of passing on one good news story every day. It can be something you read online or simply pointing out the good job that someone else has done.

Any one of these actions done on a daily basis throughout Lent would add up. No, you wouldn’t be breaking a bad habit and none of these things need be a great sacrifice.

But Christ told us to do good to the least among us. This often includes the sick, the overlooked, and those other people speak badly about. Do something good in His Name.

What better way to celebrate the sacrifice of Christ?

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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