In the 1991 film “City Slickers,” there’s an exchange between the resident cowboy, Curly (Jack Palance), and vacationing urban greenhorn Mitch (Billy Crystal). Curly asks Mitch, “Do you know what the secret to life is?” Then he holds up one finger, looks at it, and says, “This.” Mitch responds, “Your finger?” Curly shakes his head, then replies, “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean (anything).”
Giving Curly his full attention, Mitch asks, “That’s great, but what is the ‘one thing’?” Then Curly smiles and answers, “That’s what you have to find out.”
That little interaction alone is worth the price of renting the video. In these days of short attention spans, ADHD lifestyles, copious communications, and distractions by the dozens, the ability to concentrate on one thing is becoming a lost art.
We eat meals, watch TV, and monitor social media on our smartphones or tablets all at the same time. Even going out to a restaurant for dinner, we mumble at our eating partners while texting friends, checking the weather or ball scores, or watching the TV over our shoulders. The “secret to life,” it would seem, is trying to accomplish as many things as possible all at the same time, not just one thing. Multi-tasking is regarded a consummate virtue.
But I think Curly was right. If we can figure out what that one thing is, we’ll have figured out the secret to life and can stick to it. It can guide us in everything we do. In high school, for example, some athletes succeed in multiple sports, but for most of them to excel at the collegiate level – even more as professionals – they need to determine that “one thing,” the sport in which they perform best, even dominate the opposition.
Lebron James could have starred in college football as a wide receiver or tight end. However, he chose to focus on basketball and as a result, has become one of the NBA’s all-time greats. The sister-brother duo of Karen and Richard Carpenter recorded multiple vocal hits from 1969 until her death in 1983. Karen was a talented drummer, but it was her flawless voice that propelled the Carpenters to music stardom. Her distinctive melodies still captivate listeners today.
Of course, Curly of “City Slickers” was speaking in a broader sense than just vocation or talent. Because people can excel in specific areas of life and still remain clueless about “the secret to life.” If someone were to ask you about the one thing that can reveal that secret, how would you respond? Success? Wealth? Family? Love? Health?
The apostle Paul, writing to believers in the ancient church in Corinth, was bold and unwavering in declaring what he’d determined was that one thing, the secret to life. “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
Paul was explaining he saw no point in aimless dialogue, getting entangled in disputes over petty differences. Instead, he resolved to concentrate on Christ, acknowledging, “I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (2 Corinthians 2:3-5).
Speaking in Athens, an ancient city defined by polytheistic idol worship, Paul asserted Jesus Christ was more than a focal point for his faith; Christ was the foundation for the person he had become: “For in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
Had Paul been questioned by Curly of “City Slickers,” undoubtedly he would have identified Jesus Christ as the singular secret to life. Jesus Himself declared, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).