On the Gift of Doing Just One Thing

One of the great lies of the world is that we “can have it all!” We live in the age of great and seemingly endless possibilities and the fact is we want too many conflicting things. We want to be popular but we want to stand for something. We want our kids to be raised well but we want double incomes. We want good health but we want to eat rich foods and avoid exercise. We want God but we want the world too.

The fact is we cannot have everything and we must make choices. In choosing certain things we preclude other things.

But the real key in life is to learn to do just one thing, to want just one thing. This theme of unicity, of doing and wanting one thing is a consistent theme of Scripture. Lets look at some passages and see what they have to tell us.

  1. This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, be thus minded…(Phil 3:13)
  2. “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,  but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  (Luke 10:41)
  3. One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple. ( Ps 27:4)
  4. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8 )
  5. Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the regin of God (Lk 9:62)
  6. No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money (Matt 6:24)
  7. Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing (1 Kings 18:21)
  8. O adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God (James 4:4)
  9. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you would turn to the right or to the left. (Isaiah 30:21)

Well, you get the point. We have a decision to make. We are to choose God and thereby forsake the world. But the problem is that most of us want both. And if most are honest there will be an admission that the world is actually desired more than God.

But true serenity can only be found by seeking God, alone and above every desire. Our hearts were made for God. He has written his name on our heart and He alone can fulfill us.  Yet, we waver, we want everything. And, frankly these endless desires torture us. They are in conflict with each other and ultimately they are never satisfied anyway.

The grace for which to pray is to be single-hearted, to want only one thing, to want only God. The beatitude for which to pray is:  Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God (Matt 5:8) Most people miss the inner meaning of this beatitude.  The Greek word in this passage,  καθαροὶ (katharoi) is usually and properly translated as clean or pure in the usual sense. But a more extended meaning refers to something that is pure in the sense of being  unmixed with anything foreign, unalloyed. Hence there is the concept here of being single-hearted, having a pure and single motive, the desire to see God.  This is a very great blessing and God can give it to us.  Psalm 86:11 says,  Give me an undivided heart O Lord, that I may fear your name. The Latin Vulgate renders this verse as simplex fac cor meum. This is a great gift for which to pray: a simple, undivided heart. A heart that desires only God and what would lead me to him.

And by this one desire every other decision and desire is subsumed. This is what Paul means when he says, this one thing I do. He does not mean that he does not go here and there, or eat, or sleep. He simply means that everything he does is focused on, and supports the one thing: his goal to be with God forever.

A man journeying from Washington to New York would be on a fool’s errand if he took a road heading south. His destination is north. He may pull aside to get gas, or rest his eyes, but these things are only done to help him toward his goal.

A marathon runner does not stop to talk with friends, or step into a local bookstore to browse. He does one thing, he runs, he pursues the goal. Perhaps he will accept water offered. He might stop for brief moment to tie his shoe, but he only does these things because they help him to his goal.

But too many Christians who say heaven is their goal are heading south and stepping out of the race on fool’s errands.

The gift to be sought from the Lord is to be single-hearted, to have an undivided heart, the gift to do just one thing. Otherwise we are compromised, double-minded and just plain tired.

Impossible you say? With God, nothing is impossible.

OK, here’s one of the stranger videos I have posted to illustrate a point. But consider it. Its object is wrong, but its message is right. In the video there is a man who is so focused on just one thing that nothing else matters. He doesn’t even notice anything else. It’s just the one thing, that’s all he sees, that’s all that matters. Again, the object is wrong, but the idea is right, it’s all about one thing.

UPDATE – Thanks to a couple of readers who called my attention also to this movie clip from City Slickers (a movie I saw years ago but had forogtten). Please note there is one bad word in the clip but it “helps” make the point –

8 Replies to “On the Gift of Doing Just One Thing”

  1. The theme of concentrating on just one thing runs through the movie City Slickers. Curly (Jack Palance) tells Mitch (Billy Crystal) this in such a mysterious way that he doesn’t understand until near the end, after he’s saved Norman the calf from drowning in the rapids. Thank you for putting a great Catholic spin on this!

  2. Everything in the Gospel reading and the Sermon on the Mount make sense – the issue today, as I suspect it has been for 2,000 years, is how Jesus’ teaching is supposed to look like in our everyday lives.

    The world demands that we focus on more than one thing. I have to be concerned about and take actions for my career. I need to make money not as an end in itself, but to ensure my kids are educated and we’re not living on the streets in thirty years time. If I buy a new car instead of a second-hand model, or if i get tickets to the Kennedy Center instead of making a charitable donation – am I diluting my focus or just living my life?

    I had occasion to attend two masses this weekend – and was a little disappointed that each priest failed to devote at least some of their respective homily on interpreting the Sermon for their congregants.

  3. Oh, to have an undivided heart! But as we slowly reorder our lives around God, putting Him first and center in our family, the veil begins to lift … It is not easy. We shall be praying/singing.

  4. The only way to have one’s cake and eat it too is Holy Communion, because even after you eat Him you still have Him. The world tells us we can have it all, yet All is Jesus Christ.

  5. “Give me an undivided heart, oh Lord, that I may fear your name.” The irony to salvation is fearing God’s name. Please explain.

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