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The One Thing

It’s not what the self-help gurus have been telling us

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He appeared to have it all: youth, wealth, standing, pedigree. Sincere and pious, too: a credit to his nation. Still, he came looking and asking, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

This is the question of those who have it all. The poor don’t ask Him this. Those anxious about the crop or terrified they’ll lose a child or beaten down by evil or disability—they’re too beset by this life to spare much thought for the next. Only those who are comfortable in the world sense that there must be more to it. Only those who have all they need recognize that there’s a lot more to want. Hence the question.

It’s a good question, too. As spiritual beings, we should recognize that there’s more to life than Having It All. The problem is, this young man is looking to add to what he already has. He’s looking for the one thing that will make it all meaningful.

That’s what everyone is looking for: the One Thing. That’s the lure of online click bait: “This weird trick will double your dividends!” “Learn the secret that will add years to your life!” It’s the promise that launches a thousand self-help books: The Secret, The One-Minute Manager, Your Best Life Now. Even when it comes in multiples (Seven Habits, 10 Rules), it’s still the One Thing. If we could only master the one thing, we could flood our lives with purpose and joy. And if everyone joined in, what could follow but peace on earth and goodwill toward men? Self-help wouldn’t be self-help without the evangelical angle: Do this (manage your time, consume the perfect diet, wear your optimum colors, find your pressure points) and live!

Those of us who are still locked down should be considering our priorities.

Jesus, canny teacher that He is, starts where we are. This young man is all about proper behavior, and Jesus knows the answer He’ll get after listing a selection of rules from the Ten Commandments. Sure enough: “I’ve followed these from my youth.” Many of us could nod right along with him. Don’t steal, lie, murder, or commit adultery: check. Honor our parents: check. (Don’t we salute them on Facebook every Mother’s Day and Father’s Day?)

“Well then,” says Jesus, “there is one thing you lack.”

Here it is—the One Thing! Just imagine that young man leaning forward eagerly, ears quivering, heart pounding, ready to catch the secret of the ages.

Are we listening, too? Because there really is One Thing; it’s just not what the self-help gurus have been telling us. Here it is:

Turn your priorities upside-down.

Radically reorient your desires.

Give it all up.

The One Thing can’t be added to anything we already have, whether it’s talent, health, wealth, or piety. It can only replace those things. It will have all, or nothing. There’s a reason why, when Jesus was reeling off commandments, he chose from the “second table”—the commandments that address our relationships with others. He purposefully left out the first one, about loving God with all that is in us. That’s One Thing, and there’s a catch: It’s the commandment that only Jesus could keep.

But that’s why He adds, without pausing for a response, “Then come, and follow me.” Because only He can lead us out of ourselves and into the glorious light of full surrender and inexpressible joy: the essence of eternal life.

The young man who had it all turned Him down. What about us? Those of us who are still locked down should be considering our priorities. Those of us who are delivering goods on the road or hurrying from one hospital bed to another can still look for His steps directly ahead of us. Those of us who have lost a job or a business find our lives upended, and what now? The One Thing is the same for all: Reorder your loves, and follow Me.

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD’s annual Children’s Books of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.


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