Men Who Are Successful But Dead Inside

Measuring a man’s success by assessing his accomplishments is like trying to determine the height of a mountain using a stopwatch. You’re starting with a fatally flawed idea.

A man’s heart is mysterious; it can lead him to accomplish great things, yet be sick while he’s accomplishing them. For example, boxer Oscar De La Hoya won a gold medal in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and then went on to defeat seventeen world champions and win ten world titles in six different weight classes. If you sized up De La Hoya based on what he has accomplished, you’d say he was a success.

Sorrowing Old Man (At Eternity’s Gate) – Vincent van Gogh

Yet, De La Hoya doesn’t feel like a success. He’s not healthy, happy, or content. He struggled for years with cocaine, alcohol, infidelity, and even thoughts of suicide. In 2013, he told Spanish-language broadcaster Univision, “Within a couple of years, [I was] just thinking if my life was even worth it. I don’t have the strength, I don’t have the courage to take my own life, but I was thinking about it.”[1]

As I wrote my first book, Man on the Run, I interviewed several high performing, outwardly successful men. A theme emerged: you can’t tell the health of a man’s heart by examining his achievements. One man had recently won a salesman of the year award, but carried forebodings about how little time he was spending with his wife and children. Another man known for being quick to help others struggled with depression. An older businessman with a large family and a good name felt intensely lonely and detached from others, including his family.

Many men are sitting atop piles of accomplishments—a doctorate, a zero handicap golf game, a six-figure salary, and a three-car garage—feeling ashamed, insecure, scared, and defeated. As a society, we’re not helping them when we see their long faces and try to cheer them up, saying, “Trust us… you are successful.”

They don’t feel successful. They feel unworthy. They feel exhausted. The movie Saving Private Ryan illustrates this unease perfectly. As Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) is dying beside a bridge, he pulls Private James Ryan close and whispers, “James, earn this. Earn it.”

Image from Saving Private Ryan

“Earn it” marked Private James Ryan’s life from that moment forward. At the end of the movie, when Ryan is an old man, he visits Captain Miller’s grave. Thinking about Miller’s final exhortation to him, Ryan says to his wife, “Tell me I have led a good life. Tell me I’m a good man.”

His wife rubbed his back and replied, “You are!”

Private Ryan’s eyes give him away—he’s not convinced.

“Earning it” through performance is the only idea this world knows. The Gospel is a different message – it is the news that what we could never earn, we can receive. The rest we so desperately need—the sense that enough is finally enough—we can have as a gift from God.

Nobody understands the idea of “rest” better than our Creator. Rest is more than an idea to Him—it is an experience He enjoys. Genesis 2:2 tells us, “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.

God’s rest in Genesis 2 is held up as a type of the rest that He offers to us (Cf. Hebrews 4:1-10). However, God’s rest is different from the way we typically think of rest. God is a being of unending strength, so He didn’t need to give His muscles a break. He is infinite in His ability to think, so He didn’t need to let His mind go dormant. And He never grows “faint or weary” (Isa. 40:28), so He never reaches a point of exhaustion. We think about rest in these categories, but clearly God’s rest must be different.

And it is. God’s rest involves not only finishing His work, but also being completely satisfied with it. God worked for six days, and when He had completed His work, He enjoyed it. He pronounced it “very good,” and then remained engaged with it. God’s rest is a complete satisfaction and enjoyment of a good work finished. And He offers tired, imperfect, sinful men His rest, not based on their accomplishments, but on the finished work of Jesus.

We need to stop trying to measure mountains with stopwatches. What makes a man a success is the grace of God—the re-oriented heart and life he has received from God as a gift.



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