I’m stuck in a rut. I’ve been finding myself obsessing lately about: What do I want to be when I grow up?
Its symptoms are obvious, once I’m honest about them: anxiety, fear, impatience, anger, endless streams of unanswerable and unhelpful questions (What am I doing with my life? I’m not doing it very well today… Am I missing something? Should I just forget the things I think I’m called to do and just go try to make the most money I can? Aaaaah!). For me, it usually ends in a despair that makes me want to quit.
Of course I struggle in this way. I grew up in America, home of the American dream. The American dream I inhaled from 1980s/1990s culture was a dream that revolved singularly around financial excess, vocational fulfillment, and the kind of easy joy that comes from perpetual comfort. (Incidentally, we seem to suffer from some dream-confusion: the framers of the Constitution, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jesus seemed to have a much different dream in mind.) In my humble opinion, we Westerners are far too obsessed with finding the singular answer to the question: What do I want to be when I grow up? We even ask our kids from the time they’re tiny.* We spend way too much time thinking about, stressing about, and making as topmost priority what we want to be when we grow up. Even women whose dream is “just to be a mom” wrestle with this. We trust in the dream (instead of God) for our fulfillment; we trust in the dream (instead of God) for the never-ending happiness that always seems to elude us; we trust in the dream (instead of God) for our financial security (whatever that is). Don’t we realize? For millions of people in the world, the dream is just inheriting their family’s farm or business or trade and they love it, feel fulfilled or not by it, and some of them even trust God for the happiness and daily provision they need.
And so: today I’m choosing to refocus on the much more important question: Who do I want to be when I grow up? I’m choosing to let that question percolate in my brain today, producing its inevitable fruit: peace, self-acceptance, self-challenge, freedom, patience in the process.
I’m thinking about it for myself, considering as objectively and unselfishly as I can muster who God made me to be and how to keep my feet on the mostly invisible path of becoming her. I’m thinking about it for my spouse and closest friends, holding them up to God in prayer. I’m thinking about it for my kids, think-talk-praying about how I can partner with God to help them become that who. I’m thinking about it for the difficult people in my life, helping myself to find compassion that will hopefully replace my judgment and sense of superiority.
Who do I want to be when I grow up? spawns its own endless stream of mysteriously answerable and expandingly helpful questions! Its questions are so much better and more important than the questions spawned by What do I want to be…? Questions like:
- Of what character qualities am I virtually bankrupt (i.e. patience, un-condition-al love, flexibility, self-control) and who do I know who has more of them and can model them for me?
- In what character ruts am I essentially stuck (i.e. anxiety, anger, self-deprecation, out-of-control consumption) and am I being open to the Spirit of God to strip away my barriers to the kind of growth that would get me un-stuck?
- How am I letting God work in and through me as I do today the good work (of my vocation, of my relationships, of my very life, of home and food) to which I’ve been called?
When I let go of What do I want to be when I grow up? in order to focus on the question Who do I want to be when I grow up?, I’m forced to settle down a bit. I’m forced to keep my eye on the long haul. I’m forced to let go of the control I have (or thought I had) over my life and just say the simple, obedient “yes” to God for today. I can see anew that my entire life is hidden with Christ in God, exactly where it is meant to be, whether I am conscious of it or not.
I’m doing my best to take St. Paul’s advice today:
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
“So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ – that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective. Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life – even though invisible to spectators – is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too – the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.”
Love and prayers to you as you continue your lifelong reflection on: Who do you want to be when you grow up?
* It wasn’t until I was a parent that I realized how utterly bizarre was this line of questioning! How in heaven’s name is a five-year-old supposed to have any idea what the average workday of a veterinarian actually looks like, let alone if he’d like to do that every Monday thru Friday until he turns 65? And how is he supposed to feel when he isn’t a good enough test-taker actually to become a veterinarian in our particular education system? Like a complete failure of a human being because “that’s what he always wanted to be when he grew up”? And how is he supposed to find fulfillment and purpose if he finds himself in a job that simply doesn’t fit him perfectly if we’ve taught him that vocation is the only place one can find fulfillment?