Driving my 1997 Honda Accord toward Colorado Springs, Colorado, the road, and my entire life ahead of me, I thought of nothing but what was coming next. Who are the people I’ll meet in this new city? Am I going to enjoy this new life in comparison to the small ski town I’ve always known? What will be different with this decision to move? Who am I going to become?
At the time, that was the biggest question I was able to think of. By then, 19 years old, I had experienced some of what life is capable of throwing our way. I had summited many joyous mountaintops, not unlike my home state’s abundance of 14ers, which seem to only get harder to climb as life goes on, along with the deep ravines and crags that test all that I am and seem unbearable and completely overridden with obstacles. Still, there is only so much one can know of life when they are young; I know this because I am increasingly aware of how young I am and how the iceberg of life is only now being explored below the tossing waves that hide its substance.
“Who am I going to become?” can be an unproductive question as it removes us (or at least me) from now and transports us to the future. In the future, we are everything we’ve wanted to be or imagined we could be. Our dreams have been apprehended, and our problems are gone. We are with the ones we love, crushing our goals, doing and seeing all that there is to be done and seen, traveling the world, and eating all of the foods. In our fantasies, we are satisfied with our self-created, optimistic and imaginative version of ourselves.
However, we are never in the future; it is a place we know exists but can never find. It is a great white whale or the pot of gold beneath the rainbow’s end. We see it, understand it, feel it, but never lay hold of it. There comes a point where we look back and realize we’ve been chasing something that doesn’t exist, or at least not in the way we imagined. The present is the only place we can and will ever be.
“Who am I going to become?” presents us with a buffet of all that is imaginable to eat from, stacking up every dream, goal and hope, high on our plate, knowing that we can go back for seconds and thirds and fourths, but it leaves out the truth of the bill and what it costs to have all that we have ever wanted. It forgets about how much is actually possible to consume before we puke ourselves to misery. Everything we have ever hoped for and wanted will cost everything we have ever hoped for or wanted.
It’s only now I realize how my life has been shaped by this question, and others like it. I am not a planner by nature, but I am someone who thinks about what will be, and then as it arrives, I decide how to proceed. Before my 20s, I had ideas of what will come next but no guidance other than adults and friends who loved me enough to spend time showing me the map. Throughout my 20s, I have made it my goal to be led by the Holy Spirit. At times I’ve heard His voice and calling, at others I’ve disregarded what I heard, and others still I was so immersed in the raucous noise from other things that it drowned out His gentle whispers, leaving me to find my way by means of lesser maps and advice.
Sometime around the age of 20 or so, I heard a worship song that led with the words, “Where you go, I go; what you say, I say,” and it captivated me. It was revelatory to think of living my life in complete unity and relationship with God, the Father, like Jesus. As a Christian, I knew that the goal was to be like Jesus and do what He did, but it always felt passive, that eventually one day I’ll just start to look and walk and talk like Christ; as if it was by osmosis alone apart from any action other than saying, “I’m a Christian.”
The part I missed at the time, and so often miss even now is the aspect of action: Where He goes, I also go; what He says, I also say. The poetic nature of these words doesn’t come to life through a passive thought process. What would it sound like if instead those words sang, “Where You go, I think about going; what you say, I contemplate saying.” The ambiguity and soft intention would inspire people to live a transformed life nearly as much as a rock, at the bottom of a stream, inspires the water to move around it. The words of Christ are not to take up our crosses at some convenient time in the future and follow Him when it fits within our life plan. The time is now for action.
Instead of asking ourselves the question of who will I become, a better question we should be asking ourselves, or at least the one I’ve been asking myself this past year is, “Who am I becoming by what I am doing?” I heard a pastor friend, Jon Tyson, say this during an all-day event this past March, and it has remained lodged in my mind like a splinter deep under the skin, resting quietly but always prodding and provoking.
“Who am I becoming, by what I am doing?” is a question that roots us in the present. It doesn’t rely on future hopes and dreams as much as it inspires action to achieve those dreams. Who am I becoming breaks down the first question that I asked myself at 19 and places it in front of me. It is a map that shows me where I want to be going and where I am actually going should I stay on the current path. The second part of the question “by what I am doing” forces us to confront decisions that either pull us closer toward that end goal or lead further astray to some undesirable place that can never come back from.
My desire is to be a good husband; hopefully, one day, a good father, as well. I want to be a hard worker and seen as a valuable asset and contributor to my employer. I hope to be in shape, healthy, looking good and feeling confident in my skin. At the end of my life, however, above all other things, I want those around me to be left better off because of my life, and when I stand before the Lord, my greatest desire is to hear the words, “Well done,” and, “I knew you.”
In wanting those things, I’m left with the question of, “Are the decisions I’m making now, presently, today, at this moment, pushing me closer to those goals, or are they pulling me in other directions?” Other directions may be excellent ways to go, and there are even instances where goals need to be amended, and routes need to be course-corrected, but intentionally so. One thing I am sure of is that life is unpredictable, circumstances will change and adaptation will need to happen. Still, I want to live in a way that can be set up well to tackle those when they arrive and not let them overwhelm me as the waves overwhelm and crush even the most structurally sound sandcastle. This question of who am I becoming by what I am doing allows us, me, to have the foresight to build the sandcastle in a place where the waves can’t sweep it away.
We have only one life, and I want to live it well.