Twenty years from kindergarten, and we’re still publicly bombarded by one inquiry: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Except, now it’s been not-so cleverly morphed into the weightier “What are you going to do with your life?” If you’re like me, you look blankly at the asker and rattle off whichever occupation seems cool at the moment. (Did I say “cool”? I mean God-inspired.) The problem with this question seems to be a conflict of considerations.
The first, and most obvious, is money. Whoever doesn’t have student loans or other forms of debt, raise your hand. Unless you want to live out of your parents’ basement, downing Pixie Stix and chili-flavored Ramen for the rest of your life, money’s important. So we listen to the chants around us: “Be successful! Make more money!” and our parents: “Put me in a nice nursing home!” and think, “Hey … I could use more money. I should find a job that gives me money. More money.” And it really starts and ends there for a lot of us. We want it, we need it, and it’s the only way we’ll get a nicer car, a nicer home and those 10 new CDs we want (and those five DVDs, and maybe a couple books and some nice soda crackers for the pâté party on Saturday). It’s the only way we’ll be able to buy (I mean “provide for”) a nice spouse/family … and that’s important … so money takes precedence in our lives. We believe if we seek it, we will get it, as long as we can tolerate the job that puts it in our burning pockets.
Then there’s this other notion, floating behind the images of Benjamins and sugarplums in our heads. Rumor is it’s called happiness. OK, so maybe a fair number of us believe in doing something we enjoy. The problem is, a lot of the time the things that make us happy don’t make us wealthy. So, we discard them to go make money, or we decide the sacrifice is worth it, suck it up and tell ourselves for the rest of our lives that we could be making the big bucks if we wanted to, but our work is just too meaningful and enjoyable to give up.
And really, those are the two biggest factors that our generation, in order to form a more perfect lifestyle, considers. They’re the factors our parents, our relatives, our professors all want us to consider. And that’s cool for most of us, for a while, because as we pursue our lives, liberties and bigger DVD collections (and happiness), we get the feeling that we’re finally growing up, we’re finally maturing and moving out. And that’s life. We keep up the good work for another 60 years, bite the bucket and send posthumous donations to the American Heart Association in lieu of flowers. And most Christians are satisfied with that definition of life, as long as you’re “glorifying God” in the process.
But I have a problem with that. I think a lot of people do, but they don’t realize it until they’re writing articles like this one. Where’s the sense of purpose in that? What does my pursuit of my inalienable rights contribute to anyone, or anything, but me? Sure I tithe. Sure I get involved at church. But honestly, at this point in our lives when we’re deciding what to do for the rest of our lives, do we really want something that will just make us money or just make us happy? Or do we want more?
I think there’s an X-factor required in all this to make our striving finally significant … we need significance itself. Meaning. Purpose. Seven-letter words with big definitions. But all the greenbacks and feel-goods in the world are crap unless we have meaning first. And to take it one step further, let’s talk about eternal meaning. About doing something for God with significance beyond the confines of our bipolar planet. Because when God asks me to account for my life, I don’t want to tell Him, “I worked a day job in an air-conditioned office … for You!”
Often the greatest feeling of significance in our lives comes from directly serving Him. I’ve talked to numerous Christians who return from missions trips and other various services to tell me how awesome it was—how they left their hearts back in the village, or in the soup kitchen, and I can’t help but think, “If your heart’s there, why aren’t you?” I know there’s a lot of factors. We think we have to worry about money. We think we have to worry about our happiness. But we don’t. We don’t have to worry about anything; even the sparrows are covered by God’s providence. The only thing we should worry about is doing something worthy of the name of the God who saved us. And at this point in our lives, when we’re young and not stuck in mortgages or other long-term commitments, why not send a giant “screw you” to the consumerist powers that be and do something of eternal significance? Why not give our lives over to the God that’s brought us here, now, before we’re weighed down by all the anchors “maturity” brings?
Some heads are nodding (mine was), until I realized that if I truly seek to serve Him and do something of eternal significance, I just might lose myself and my right to my desires. And that’s completely true. With God, there’s no promise of inalienable rights. And that, coupled with the notion of devoting my life to what He wants to do with me, not my wants and wishes, scares me crapless. There’s so much to give up. But this life isn’t about what I want. It’s about what He wants. And when we do what He wants, we’ll slowly see His wants become our wants, and that’s when the “eternal significance” wheels really start rolling.
[Peter Hypki is a 21-year old former English major and InterVarsity Press intern with an impressive knack for sitting quietly, tripping loudly and falling for the most amazing girl he’s ever met.]
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