The Rent Is Due

A highlight of my week is spending time each Monday evening with guys at one of the HIA houses. If you haven’t heard of Hope Is Alive, check them out. Almost everyone is affected by addiction, and HIA offers what I believe to be the most successful support for recovery I have ever seen.

This past Monday, I was reading some of the things the guys had written on the white board in the main room. These range from affirmations, to notes, and even the chore list. One saying got my attention: “Success is not owned; it is rented, and the rent’s due every damn day.”

As I thought about that, it occurred to me that how I define success significantly alters the impact of this statement. The homily is true, regardless of how I define success, I must pay for that success every day. What I end up paying, though, makes an important difference in my life.

Early in my life, I defined success in many of the ways our society commonly does—being important and influential, having wealth and possessions, achieving and creating big things, and looking good while doing it all. Early on in my career, I was able to keep all the plates spinning. Accomplishment wasn’t just my measure of success, it was my identity and self-worth—my value.

As time went on though, I found it harder and harder to keep up. The rent on my success kept going up, and the daily bill got impossible to pay. Like a drug addict or an alcoholic, the cost of my daily habit outran my ability to generate enough capital to maintain. You can lie, cheat, and steal to support a physical addiction, but the emotional and mental cost of addiction consumes your very being. I finally got to the point where I couldn’t pay the rent on my life.

In recovery, I learned there is a healthier way to define success. As I worked my way through the steps, I finally got to Step 12, “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, I try to carry this message to other addicts and to practice these principles in all my affairs.”

“What message?” you may ask. “What principles?”

The answers to those questions are found in the other 11 steps. They outline an effective way to redefine my life in terms that lead to true success. Simply put, the principles are these: surrender to God, be completely honest with myself and others, acknowledge and correct it when I fail to treat others with respect for their value, and seek only the knowledge of God’s will and the daily power to do it.

Now I define success in terms of the relationships and lives I am connected to. I’m not a minimalist yet, but I certainly appreciate many of the underlying tenants. In the documentary, Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things on Netflix, this quote stood out to me:

“Love people, use things. Because the opposite of that never works.”

Simple concept, hard to live out, but the reward is almost a miracle.

Remember I said that we have to pay for our success every day? It’s still true for this new definition of success. I have to pay the rent every day by investing in relationships and intentionally loving people. It’s work. Sometimes it’s hard. (I can only imagine how hard I can be to love sometimes…) However, there is a mysterious and wonderful thing that happens when I surrender to God, practice self-awareness and honesty, and value others equally with myself. Instead of the rent going up and getting harder and harder to pay, it starts going down and gets easier and easier to pay.

Things I used to haul around with me—stress, worry, self-doubt, emotional weariness, anger, resentment, and a host of other really heavy and negative things—are mostly gone now. I finally understand what Jesus meant when he said His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.  (Matthew 11:25-30)

I still have a career, and I need and like getting a paycheck. I still want to be well thought of in my community. I still collect some things. (Remember, not a minimalist yet…) I still have a lot of ideas and dreams and visions. Surrender does not mean I stop living. Transparency is risky and a little scary, but it leads to trust and relationship. When I learned that value was intrinsic and equal in all people, I was able to stop competing for it. (It’s not a scarce resource.)

Before, I was exhausted emotionally at the end of a day. Now, I have emotional energy to spare. Before, I woke each morning panicked that it would be the day I would fail. Now, I look forward to the next sunrise. (I often wake early, ready to get going.) Before, I was a human doing out of necessity and compulsion. Now, I am a human being who loves doing.

You are going to have to pay the rent on whatever version of success you choose. You can take the road to the world’s version. It is a wide road and it’s easy to find because so many people are on it, but it will cost you dearly and the price goes up every day. Or you can take the road that leads to recovery, restoration, and redemption. It’s a narrow path and can be a little hard to find, but it is worth the effort in the long run. If you need help finding the way, come talk to me. Sharing the path is part of my rent, and it’s The Kimray Way.