The secret of life? Heed the words of Jesus

Published 5:12 pm Tuesday, April 5, 2011

By KEN LETSON / Guest Columnist

In the 1991 movie City Slickers, Billy Crystal plays a confused, dissatisfied 30-something character with a vague sense that life is passing him by. In a quest to find some excitement in his life, he gathers a few of his New York “city slicker” friends and heads to a special ranch out west for a cattle round-up, cowboy style.

In a memorable scene, the character played by Jack Palance — Curly, an old, tough, leathery cowboy who is wise to the ways of the world — asks Mitch (Crystal’s character) if he would like to know the secret of life.

“It’s this,” Curly says, holding up a single finger. “The secret of life is your finger?” asks Mitch, with typical New York sarcasm. “It’s one thing,” Curly replies. “The secret of life is pursuing one thing.”

Somehow that really clicks deeply with Crystal’s character. His life is scattered. He is torn between his obligation to his family and his desire for career advancement; between his need for security and his appetite for excitement. He is divided and emotionally fragmented. His life is about many things, and so, he senses, it is about nothing.

So what is the one thing?  Curly can’t tell Mitch in the movie.  “You have to find it yourself,” he says.

And so, too, must we.

The New Testament epistle of James tells us that a “double-minded man is unstable in all his ways,” and most of us can identify. Dutch philosopher Soren Kierkegaard saw double-mindedness as the essential disease of the human spirit. That disease, he wrote, was the failure to achieve simplicity — to have a life that is integrated, focused on one thing, what he called “the Good.”

That sounds familiar. When Martha was frantically trying to work to get her house in order for Jesus while her sister Mary just sat at His feet listening to Him teach, Martha was quick to express her frustration. Jesus answered that Martha was distracted by too many things, and that she needed to focus on “one thing,” that is, “the good” of fellowship with Him (Luke 10:41-42).

Perhaps some of us need to heed the words of Jesus … and of Curly. In our over-committed busy-ness, we would all do well to simplify, to “seek first His kingdom,” trusting that everything else will take care of itself (Matt. 6:33).

Ken Letson is senior pastor of the Church at Shelby Crossings in Calera. You can reach him at