I’ve been wondering about ambition lately. Could be because I’m entering midlife and re-evaluating myself, my vocational trajectory, and my discipleship. Anyway, I’m haunted by a saying I once heard: “I got to the top of the ladder and realized it was leaning against the wrong wall.” Have you ever felt that way?
I worry that sometimes we can pursue a prescribed path for our lives, live out a script that society or our family or someone else hands to us, which we assume is the right way to go…only one day to wake up and discover that, in fact, it had little resonance with God or even with our deepest wirings.
It’s so easy in Christian circles to sprinkle some Christianese into this discussion and talk about having high impact for the kingdom, seeking God’s glory, trying to be at the center of God’s will, etc—all good things if they’re genuine…but what if they’re more show than substance? What if they’re simply our ambition (or even our pride) shellacked with pseudo-spirituality? Am I being too harsh?
What if the gospel calls us to obscurity? Or even to what others might perceive as mediocrity? Is bigger (as in salary, congregations, etc) really better? Could there ever be a downward mobility to following Jesus?
I’m also haunted by what I’ve sometimes observed in those who excel—whether reaching the top rung in professional sports, business, entrepreneurship, entertainment, even church leadership—their paths seem too often littered with the debris of broken relationships, compromised integrity, and neglect. Am I over-generalizing? What does excelling really look like? Can we really excel when we neglect the things that make for personal integrity—nurturing a marriage, raising children, being a good neighbor, getting involved in the community?
I worry that sometimes in church circles (and among pastors, especially), we can bring in worldly ambition, dress it up in church clothes and call it zeal for God and his Kingdom. When, truth be told, what’s really going on is nothing more than the natural impulses of the flesh, which in any other profession or social circle would be named for what it is: ambition. Am I grinding an axe? Did my dinner disagree with me? What do you think?