The editorial staff here at TheHighCalling.org often asks me, “Where are we headed next? What are our goals?” I usually reply, “World domination, of course!”
Not all ambitions are bad, but I have a habit of turning everything into an ambition.
When I was a kid at the kitchen table doing my homework, my parents taught me to consider my work as a sacrifice to God. “Work as if you are working for the Lord,” they said. I was never sure why the Lord wanted me to do so many math problems, but I was happy that the Lord at least put the answers to the odd questions in the back of the book.
My parents turned up the heat even more for special projects. As I hurriedly drew pictures and scribbled down reports and pasted signs on tri-fold displays, they reminded me, “If you are going to do something, do it to the best of your ability.”
In my mind, this advice somehow became a twisted ambition to win everything. I didn’t just want to do my best, I wanted to do better than everybody else. I wanted to take the gold every time, in every event. If we played Monopoly, I played to win. If we built Lego spaceships, I judged mine against my brother’s. If I entered the science fair, I wanted to win at the state level. (And I did, nya nya nya nya nya nya.)
It’s funny how the fruits of the Spirit don’t include ambition or success or winning. I wish they did, if only because I could understand that better. Instead, Paul tell us to show love and joy and peace and patience.
I don't want peace! I want control! I want to destroy the competition. I don't even want joy, unless it means wearing the gold medal around my neck and standing on the highest platform while everyone cheers.
OK, I'm exaggerating here, but you get the point.
The hardest fruit of all for me comes at the end of Paul's list: gentleness. The Greek work is prautes, and it shows up in another interesting place. Matthew translates the prophets of the Old Testament into Greek and writes, “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” That's the biblical picture of gentleness--Jesus on a donkey riding into Jerusalem being cheered by people who are going to turn on him in just a few days.
This is a different kind of leadership than most of us aim for. I’ve not seen many CEOs or Presidents who come to me gently. They don’t ride on donkeys. They ride in Porsches and Bentleys. They whip out their expensive new gadgets. And I aspire to be like them. I don’t look down on their Porsches. I want one of my own! I don’t look down on their Ipads and 4G and HD and 3D. I want it all too. But early adoption isn’t a fruit of the Spirit, either.
If we want to be leaders, we should expect to ride donkeys and maybe even drive used cars. We should expect that people will praise us one day and tear us down the next. And through it all, we are to be gentle.
That’s hard stuff because we don’t live in a gentle world.
But there are places and activities that are gentle. Poetry is one of these. Even the angriest poem is softened by the form. I can rant and rave about racism or sexism or classism in a poem, and somehow the lines and stanzas and metaphors soften all the edges.
So where are your edges? What are your struggles?
Update: When we first published this article, we invited readers to participate. Write a poem about one of your struggles, we suggested, but be gentle with yourself. Ride your own dark ambitions, gently on a donkey. Below is a list of their responses.
Photograph "Brisbane 008" by Tim Miller, used with permission via Flickr.