A life well lived can be summed up in one sentence.
Abraham Lincoln isn’t known for all of his failures (often grossly exaggerated but present nonetheless)–his failed businesses, battling depression and unsuccessful attempts at a few other political offices. He’s known for abolishing slavery and reuniting the United States of America. One sentence about a man who changed the world.
His decisions were unpopular with a hefty chunk of his constituents, but we look back on him as one of the greatest presidents (and men) our country has ever been graced with.
Bill Gates decided to change his sentence from one about putting a computer on the desk of everyone in America to one about charity and being a voice for generosity. He used his skills and his platform to pursue what he deemed was a more important goal. He decided to rewrite his sentence.
There’s a long list of people living with unrelenting, singularly-focused visions for their lives and their hopes for others.
- Dave Ramsey’s rally against debt.
- Brené Brown’s cry for vulnerability.
- Leo Babauta’s movement for simplicity.
- Seth Godin’s urging for the remarkable and limit pushing.
- Nancy Duarte’s vision for presentations that inspire change.
These people are some of my heroes because they have an ambition to make a difference in areas they are most passionate. They have side projects and other interests. But they have set the pace and started movements in their areas of greatest interest and expertise because they honestly believe they can change the world by focusing on those areas specifically and wholeheartedly.
John Piper describes this one-sentence lifestyle in the Christian sense as a “holy ambition” in his book of the same title,
‘Holy ambition’ means something you really want to do that God wants you to do. Something you want to do so much that doing it keeps you from doing other things that you also really like to do.
Something you want to do so much that it keeps you from doing other things you really like to do. A holy ambition is something that means forsaking your other desires when they keep you from your one burning passion. Most often, as I see it, a holy ambition is a problem you will do all you can to be a part of the solution. Something so devastating in our culture or our world that you can’t let it go unchecked any longer.
I’m not there yet. I’m still trying to figure out my sentence. I’m primarily excited about reaching people with the message of Jesus all around the world. But I also get excited about design that changes minds, stewardship of treasure, time and talents, fundraising to solve problems and help others, productivity to get more of the right things done and, well, honestly, delicious cookies. Perhaps there’s an intersection between all of those things. It’s unlikely though. I can use my different skills and passions and drive them toward one main goal, but pursuing them all likely means forsaking them all.
The good news about my sentence (and yours) is that we don’t have to know what it is today. But, the sooner we find it, the sooner we can start making a greater impact.
Finding Your Holy Ambition
Here are a few questions I’m asking myself to try to figure out what my holy ambition is (I’ve almost ruled out cookies).
- If you could solve one problem (as you see it) in the world and know that you would succeed, which would you choose to solve?
- What keeps you up at night because enough people don’t know the truth about it?
- What do you most often find yourself thinking and talking about when you can think or talk about whatever you want?
- What skills and experiences do you have that uniquely equip you to be an expert in a certain area?
- If you had a Wikipedia page, what would you want the first line to say about you?
- If you had a phrase or sentence etched into your gravestone, what would it be?
- When people remember you after you’re gone, what do you primarily want to come to their minds?
It’s easier to craft a sentence about your life when you look backwards. It’s easier to retrace your steps when you don’t know where you’re going than it is to plot out your path.
Unfortunately, if you wait too long, your sentence will be a run-on and void of clarity. It’s a balancing act between foraging ahead toward your holy ambition, the desire and calling God has placed on your life, taking opportunities as they come to you, and saying no to the things that are keeping your life from being summed up in one sentence.