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My relationship with ambition and how God is redeeming it.
The Eagles won, but still disappointed me
At our Ask Me Anything on Sunday someone asked me about my relationship with ambition. I admit I was a little caught off guard because my ambition isn’t my favorite topic to discuss, but some of my friends have told me that it’s important part of me, so I shouldn’t shy away from it. So I went for it.
I started with the Eagles. It was a football Sunday and the Eagles had barely won the game that afternoon. It was Carson Wentz’s first game back after a season-ending injury last year, so he was a bit rusty (but if his penchant for overthrowing receivers was any indication, it was that his old mechanics weren’t affected by the ACL tear). The team made several unfortunate penalties that cost them, too. It was a little sloppy. But we persevered, got some big plays when we needed to (like sacking the Colts’s Andrew Luck on 4th and Goal late in the fourth quarter). But the win wasn’t decisive and I still felt disappointed in that. I not only like to win, but I like to win decisively and confidently. Survival isn’t winning. Thriving is winning.
Shame on top of shame
It’s fun to win for me, it’s fun to succeed, and it feels good when I do it. My excitement around ambition and success isn’t an expression of my truest self, I think, but it is still a part of me and how God made me. In fact, my drive and ambition, my leaders have told me, is a part of my giftedness. It has been hard for me to come to a place of peace with who I am and what I bring, but I am moving toward loving myself and seeing myself as God sees me.
You see, the other side of my ambition is shame. When things aren’t going right, I feel ashamed about my failure. I can be embarrassed when I stumble or fall or I don’t pull it off the way that I thought I would. Embarrassing myself in front of my father or people I respect is still a big source of anxiety for me (Lord, hear my prayer!).
But more than that, I can also be ashamed for being who I am. I know that many segments of the world value ambitious or charismatic leaders. We prop them up and celebrate them. But I also know there are a lot of people who are suspicious of leaders like that, especially malevolent ones that use their penchant for success for evil.
The good and the bad and the ugly
Often times leaders that are focused on the prize know how to adjust their self-image to the needs of a situation, and they work on how to adapt. A struggle for us is finding our true self in Jesus because we’re constructing another self to fit the needs of the situation at hand. There is some good to that, but there is also a risk. And my biggest fear is that I’ll be caught doing that!
We learn how to be successful in different situations and that can result in affirmation for our performance. I know it feels good to be complimented and I like being affirmed. But again, I have a sense of shame around that too!
And the worst part of that cycle is that I have a sense of shame about feeling ashamed! It’s like I should know better. I shouldn’t feel ashamed because I should be able to “handle” who I am. I think the ideal person can fail, be criticized, and feel nothing after doing that because they are so centered and ready to handle any situation. When I hear that voice, I know that it is my false self talking, because I think I should be able to adapt to those situations.
But what I’m feeling in that moment, that sting or that pain, is a real part of me. I don’t need to buff it out so that I seem well-adjusted to any circumstance (and thereby less human, in a sense). This might be obvious to some of you, but it isn’t always for me, but feeling sad isn’t wrong. I can feel sad, and God can empathize with me and feel sad with me, and that be the end of the story for that day. I was so happy when I unexpectedly heard that from a friend last week, as I was lamenting what I thought was a lack of personal development in me.
Coming to terms with who I am
God is moving me, along with my mentors and leaders, to be OK with who I am, my giftedness, both its shadow side and its light. It can get the worst of me. It can be narcissistic, image-conscious, image-obsessed even. It can make it less vulnerable and open. It can cause my hide away. If I lean too much on the fact that a sense of admiration of others can sometimes keep me from feeling ashamed, I can become a vacuous and empty person with no interior life. Finding time for private reflection, silence, journaling is so important, and challenging too, for me. It’s also important that I engage in avocations that are not a public spectacle, despite the potential affirmation there.
On the other hand, though, my personality type and focus on ambition isn’t all bad. I’ve been told I’m efficient, fast-working, and productive. I can accomplish a lot and I’m glad for that.
One reason I am fast working, however, is because when I slow down I can feel anxious or sad, or worried that someone will see me for who I am and hurt me. My false self tells me that in order to be loved I have to achieve. That’s how I think my earthly father will love me, and in my darkest days, that’s how I think God will love me too. I have to keep reminding myself that God loves me unconditionally and I don’t suffer condemnation when I fall, stumble, or sin. I am more than my last success.
I have an identity in Christ that’s bigger than my latest success. I don’t need to perform to receive it. I have already won the fight. Jesus saves me and the whole world. He’s already defeated death and that’s the biggest success.
It is here where they begin to see that they are loved for simply being themselves and not for what they do. They know that they no longer need to perform to earn love since Christ accomplished everything their heart longs for.
God can still use me
But even as I see myself as God sees me, I know that I am gifted and made in a certain way by God. And I don’t have to be ashamed of that. I don’t have to be ashamed for feeling good when I accomplish something or things are going well. I’m OK as I am.
And God can use me to advance the Gospel, to help bring about restoration, reconciliation, and redemption. I can be used, as I am and for who I am with the skills and talents I have, to work on the Family Business that God commissioned the church with.
I can still enjoy succeeding while not making that enjoyment be the motivation for it! You see, I want to share the Gospel, I want to share Circle of Hope, I want to find people looking for Jesus. I have a personality that makes a lot of that feel natural to me. But, more than that, I am constrained by God’s love to do that too. Even if I became perfectly at peace with who I was in Christ, felt known and loved for who I am and not what I did, I would still be moved by Jesus because of how God has transformed me to share it.
In fact, it is nothing but the love and grace of God that completes me! It transformed me beyond my shame! And honestly, I have to share it. I know it’s a message someone else needs to hear. And I can’t hold out. I’m moved by God’s love to share the Gospel, and I’m grateful that God gave me a personality and a capacity to do it.