Do nothing out of selfish ambition. (Phil 2:3).
Many achievers have been wired to achieve from their cradles, a mixture of genetically mediated temperament and family culture.
And then we become Christians, and we give up our old identity.
We are now hidden in Christ.
And what becomes of our old ambition?
Well, I can tell you what happened to mine. It has graduated through three phases, the conjunctions changing at each phrase.
* * *
Ambition OR Christ
I committed my life to Christ at 17. I finished school early, having skipped grades, and then worked with Mother Teresa for two years.
When I went to University, to read English at Somerville College, Oxford University, I quickly sensed the contradiction between the openness with one’s time which Christ required (I read “give to everyone who asks of you,” almost literally!) and complete dedication to writing.
Incredibly, I chose writing, and for the next few years—all through a graduate degree in Creative Writing—I focused on reading and writing poetry. To quote Willa Cather, I served “the God of Art who demands human sacrifices.”
It was perceived failure in writing poetry which led me to recommit my life to Christ six years later, and, this time, it stuck.
Ambition AND Christ
In On Writing, Stephen King says he had considered his life a support system for his art. However, when crippled by excruciating pain after a freak road accident, he realized that his art was, in fact, a support system for his life. It made his life bearable, and added comfort and joy to it.
For years, even as a Christian, my heart was really in my writing, sad with unfulfilled ambition for it. I wanted my Christian disciplines to help me get my act together so I could write more. Faith as a support system for art.
Well, God was having none of that.
Francis Thomson writes in “The Hound of Heaven,”
Ah! is Thy love indeed
A weed, albeit an amaranthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
Once Christ had his eyes on me, he was not going to share me, so to say. And so, my ambition was blocked, and came to nothing, forcing me to burrow into Christ for answers and comfort and joy.
I am glad. Fulfilled ambition without the comfort of Christ can be hard and barren. The Indian mystic, Rabindranath Tagore, describes it: “Away from the sight of thy face, my heart knows no rest nor respite, and my work becomes an endless toil in a shoreless sea of toil.”
Ambition IN Christ
I am still ambitious; of course, I am. I want to learn to write beautifully, and I want my words to read by many.
But most days, I hold my ambition lightly, in perfect peace.
I am in Christ, hidden in Christ. I am working from “inside” Christ, listening closely to him for ideas, drawing on his strength, eager to write beautiful things which will be a blessing to many.
I am writing in Christ as a branch in the vine, as his ideas, sap and life flow into me, and through me.
I am ambitious to write because I must, as a bird must sing, but it is a surrendered ambition. I am happy if God brings me many readers.
But if he does not, I will still write with joy. As a bird sings its high clear notes, as fish swim through the seas of this world because they must, even so must I write, recreating life’s beauty in words.
This orginally appeared at Penelope Swithinbank’s blog