This article is part of our series on broken wells. In Gretchen’s new book, The Well-Watered Woman, chapter 5 is about “Forsaking Broken Wells.” We long for the living water that Jesus offers (John 4:10) but too often settle for empty wells and broken cisterns (Jer. 2:11-13). Gretchen explains, “We spend a lot of our lives trying to force empty wells to provide for us. Just as you can’t make a broken mug hold coffee, you can’t make an idol yield lasting joy.” This series will follow the four common broken wells that Gretchen shares in her book, digging deeper into the pitfalls of each well and the better hope offered to us in living water. Today we'll look at the broken well of success.
My Broken Well
Growing up, I was never particularly good at anything. I loved trying new things, but none of them seemed to stick. I played sports but mostly felt like a nuisance that couldn’t kick the ball where it needed to go. Then I tried instruments. While I can play a few chords on the guitar, piano, and cello, I have never been able to play a song on any of them. I didn’t find my niche until I started college. There I discovered that independent learning, reading through entire books, writing essays, and grasping concepts was my thing. Every semester I would take more classes than I needed just for the sake of learning.
Somewhere along the way, I started believing that what I accomplished defined who I was. I needed to prove myself. Once I graduated college and got my first job, I quickly decided to pursue my master’s in social work.
My work and education were all-consuming. Two months before graduation, I started contacting universities to pursue my Ph.D. in social work. When my husband continued to prompt me to explain the reasoning behind my obsession with more schooling, I couldn’t answer. Deep in my heart, I wanted that doctorate title before my name. I wanted the recognition that a Ph.D. would bring. I brought the same obsession for performance, recognition, and success to my job.
If I was going to prove my value, I needed to work harder and keep aiming higher. Only then would I receive the recognition my heart desired. But the more I drank from this broken well, the emptier I felt and the more burdened and overwhelmed I became. Nothing I did was ever enough, and it only led me closer to the brink of collapse.
Each of us defines success differently. For you, success may be getting the highest grades in your college class. Maybe it is getting that competitive job or having the biggest house on the block. It could be getting the most likes on your Instagram post or having the best-behaved children.
You may define your daily success by looking around your home and finding it clean with dinner ready or by getting that perfect streak of workouts in. However we define success, our pursuit of it can easily become an idol in our hearts. When it consumes our love, energy, and longing, we have exalted our perceived success above God.
Reevaluating Our Motives
If you had asked me why I chose to pursue a career in social work, I would have told you that this is God’s calling for my life. He has placed in me a desire and a calling to serve the orphans, the widows, the poor, and the outcast as a way to be his hands and feet to this world. But as I obsessed and poured myself into pursuing my own success, I forgot the reason behind everything I did. It is to give God glory and make his name known. I needed to reorient my heart and my motives so that they became aligned with God’s will.
Ever since the Fall of man in Genesis 3, each of us struggles to place God in his rightful place in our hearts. We create idols to worship instead of worshipping him alone. We forsake him, the fountain of living water, and chose to dig wells that are broken and cannot hold anything (Jer. 2:13).
These wells cannot satisfy, they cannot quench our thirst, and they are unable to make us whole. When we continue to come to these broken wells to find our identity, we leave empty-handed, broken, and disappointed. These broken wells cannot satisfy because they were never meant to do so. There is only one that can satisfy the longings of our hearts and make us whole—Jesus Christ.
Trading Our Success for His Glory
The Bible calls us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:5, NIV). This command is not for us to just kind of love God or to seek him after we have come to the end of our broken wells. It’s a command to love him with all we are and seek him first (Matt. 6:33). It’s about God being the one we desire, the one we long for, and the one in whom we spend all of our time and energy pursuing.
In her book, The Well-Watered Woman, Gretchen Saffles says, “True Kingdom success is found in obedience to Christ, which flows from the fountain of Living Water. It’s marked by wholehearted repentance and total reliance on God—nothing more, nothing less. Any other striving for success is an empty well that can never satisfy.”
Trading our success for his glory requires us to identify our idols and come in repentance before him. We ask that he would transform our hardened hearts and give us hearts that love him with all we are. We pray that he would give us a desire to seek his kingdom above all. Then we walk in obedience, realizing that we are called for good works that God set in motion before the beginning of time (Eph. 2:10).
Our passions, interests, and talents were placed in us by God for the purpose he has designed for us. It’s not from us, and it never was. We must pray daily for discernment about what he would have us do. And we must be flexible enough to stop the busyness of our agendas to serve, listen, or pray for someone in need.
From Hustle to Rest
Can you feel the difference? When we submit ourselves in obedience to the Lord, seeking him first above all else, and walking in complete reliance on him, we trade our obsession for success for rest in him. This does not mean we stop doing what he has called us to do, but that in everything we do, we do it depending on him and for his glory (Rom. 11:36).
We walk in surrender and obedience as we pursue our careers, raise our children, clean our homes, or share on Instagram. When we surrender our desire to be in control and be all-sufficient, we find rest in him who will equip us for everything he has called us to do (2 Cor. 9:8, Heb 13:21). We come to the fountain of living water and live out of the overflow of his grace.