Tag Archives: Ambition

Peeling the Onion

Peeling the Onion (CaD James 3) Wayfarer

But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.
James 3: 14 (NIV)

I have discovered along my spiritual journey that spiritual growth is a lot like peeling an onion. Every time I work to peel off a layer of pride and selfishness in my life, there’s always a deeper layer waiting underneath. Motives, thoughts, behaviors, and/or actions that I never even perceived or considered before. As the prophet, Jeremiah, stated, there is no end to our sinful human natures.

In my pursuit of spiritual progress, I’ve learned that self-awareness is an essential ingredient. I am consciously and consistently attempting to monitor my feelings, thoughts, desires, and appetites. As I do so, I begin to see patterns emerge, which typically lead me to important discoveries about myself.

Wendy is an audiobook and podcast junkie. Whenever she’s doing something by herself, her ear bud is in and she’s listening to something. We typically have conversations about things we’ve been reading, listening to, and thinking about. I began to notice an intense negative reaction in my spirit whenever Wendy would speak about certain authors and podcasters. It was like fingernails on a chalkboard style reaction. As I became aware of these feelings, it begged the question:

What is that about?

Time to start peeling back another layer of the onion.

I contemplated my intense negative feelings and I made two important connections. First, this person Wendy mentioned she was listening to was currently an “It” person in popular culture. It wasn’t just Wendy mentioning the name. It was a name I was hearing mentioned from multiple people in my circles of influence. Second, this was a person I’d never even heard of until recently and suddenly this person had what seemed a proportionately huge mindshare of people around me.

So, what? Why did this seem to irritate me so much? Next, I began to contemplate what I know about myself.

I’m an Enneagram Type Four, which means that my core motivation is to find purpose and/or significance.

Could it be that my reaction was nothing more than envy that this person has successfully achieved a level of significant influence that I never have and never will?

Is it possible that my self-awareness has observed a very human reaction rooted in jealousy?

Am I witnessing selfish-ambition at work in me, desiring the purpose and significance another person has found at the expense of contentment in the purpose and significance to which I am called?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Mea culpa.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

In today’s chapter, James urges Jesus’ followers not to “harbor” bitter envy and selfish ambition. (Note: the Greek word translated “harbor” is echo. There’s more to unpack there.) This is where self-awareness leads to growth. Ever since making this discovery about myself, I’ve begun to not just feel these emotions when they occur, but to actually process them. First, I confess to the emotion and it’s root cause in me. Second, I remind myself of the path and purpose to which I’ve been called and led in my own journey. Finally, I typically say a silent prayer of blessing and gratitude for this person and the good purposes God has for them, and then express gratitude for the person I am, and purposes God has for me. I then confirm my desire and commitment to fulfill those purposes, no matter what they may be, for God’s glory.

This process has helped me to stop harboring envy and selfish ambition, and to send them sailing off into the sea of forgetfulness.

Another layer peeled.

On to the next.

Pressing on.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Chapter-a-Day Proverbs 27

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Be wise, my child, and make my heart glad. 
      Then I will be able to answer my critics.
Proverbs 27:11 (NLT) 

I happened to be visiting with a farmer and his father yesterday. Finding ourselves sitting there with a little time on our hands, I began asking questions and making some small talk. The family farm had been passed down from his great-grandfather who came to America from the old country around the turn of the 20th century. When I asked if any of his children were going to carry on the family farm, I kicked the pebble which started an avalanche.

A long, sad saga of parental woe flooded from the farmer’s mouth. One son said he wanted to take it on and carry on the family legacy, but he didn’t show any actual ambition to do any actual work or finish the degree he felt short of completing. A second son had attended a year of college here and a year of college there to study this or that but didn’t want to finish and ended up working a low paying job in the area. For reasons the father had not been told, the son lost that job and was currently unemployed. The third son was a similar story. He went to one year of community college and then quit. He apparently had no job and showed no signs of finding one. The father stared blankly out the window as he talked. You could feel the heavy weight of his heart.

I sat and quietly listened as the farmer went down his descriptive checklist of passive, undisciplined, and aimless children. I tried not to be judgmental, but to listen graciously and offer no comment. I realized that I was hearing the father’s perspective and the sons, had they been there to offer testimony, may have shared a very different story. A lone perspective rarely, if ever, offers an accurate picture of the family system.

Nevertheless, I walked away saddened by the tragic story the farmer told of his children and the empty, disappointed look in his eyes as he told it. I suddenly felt a surge of gratitude for my children and for their passion, their ambition, and their heartfelt desire to make a positive mark on their world. I felt the stark contrast between the farmer’s story and the one I get to tell.

Today, I am grateful that I am blessed with children who make my heart glad.

Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 51

“The harder you work at this empty life,
   the less you are.
Nothing comes of ambition like this
   but ashes.” Jeremiah 51:58b (MSG)

“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” – Jesus

When approaching a role for the stage I do a lot of what’s call “character work.” As I dig into the character I’m portraying, I will usually try to identify the one thing that drives the character. I challenge myself by asking “Can I, in one word or phrase, describe what is it this person really wants?”

Last fall when I was digging into the character of Oliver Warbucks, I found a line in the script that became the foundation on which I built my character (I paraphrase, it’s been a while since I delivered the line):

“I made a promise to myself that I was going to be rich, very rich. By the time I was 23 I’d made my first million. In ten years, I’d turned that into a hundred million. Boy, in those days that was a lot of money.

“I have to admit to you Annie, I was ruthless to those I had to climb over to get to the top….but then I realized something. It doesn’t matter how many Rembrandts or Dusenbergs you’ve got. If you’re alone. If you’ve got no one to share your life with. Then you might as well be broke and back in Hell’s Kitchen.”

Oliver Warbucks was in the middle of a crisis of ambition. In a few short scenes he learns the lesson Jeremiah was teaching in today’s chapter. He realizes that nothing comes of his blind ambition but ashes. He faces the truth, for the first time, that it profits him nothing to literally gain the whole world, but lose his soul. The change in Oliver’s heart and ambition is the true story of Annie.

Jesus asked another question that Oliver Warbucks, and I, should continually ask ourselves. What is your treasure? For where you choose to place your treasure, your heart will ambitiously go after it. Be careful what you ambitiously seek, because it may determine what you ultimately find.

Today, I’m pondering this question: “If an actor was hired to play me in a biographical movie about my life, what would he discover is my greatest ambition? The treasure after which I seek? The one thing that motivates me?”