“I have no idea what I’m doing with my life.”
THAT is the most common phrase I hear from people my age. We are early twenty-somethings who are making big-kid decisions for the first time. We want everything and are therefore paralyzed from moving toward anything. Our lives have consisted of school, then more school, then more school. For many of us, our biggest decisions have been about romantic relationships or how to spend our precious summer months. All of a sudden it’s time to walk down a career path, talk about marriage, and to step out of parental co-dependence into a world that is much less structured and kind. My intention is not to downplay the difficult decisions that many of us make during our adolescent years, because they certainly seem (and may very well be) huge when we’re faced with them. However, this new season of independence is equally liberating and terrifying. Here is what I think God has to say about it:
Find your identity in Jesus.
I will say that I am pretty okay with the future. For the most part, it doesn’t freak me out too much lately. But there are days – times when I get lost in thought about all the things I want to do, and I go into a manic job-application binge. During these times, I spend an hour on indeed.com feeling frustrated and thinking that I will be a boring old lady with nothing to offer the world. I worry about my ability to get my foot in the door somewhere; to be in a place that facilitates upward mobility and gets me closer to my ”dream job.” I worry that I will get stuck somewhere and that I won’t ever travel again, won’t ever have a thriving career, or will be miserable doing menial work for my entire life. I wonder if I’ll have children and have trouble prioritizing them over my career. I was thinking on this yesterday and all of a sudden I realized a common theme in my thoughts.
Me…my career, my success, my life, and ultimately my identity and my worth.
This is an ugly realization. Many of the things I want to do in life are careers that allow me to ”help” other people in tangible ways. I am interested in social justice, cross-cultural relations, religious freedom, humanitarian aid, and poverty alleviation. So how do I get off making those things about me? If someone else told me that they approached these worthy causes with such selfish ambitions and motivations, I would think they were a horrible, selfish person. But it is the truth that rears its ugly head from the depths of my heart when my fears start churning.
So I am faced with a truth. I am a selfish person. I am never enough and no matter what I do, it will never be ”enough.” I rarely meet the expectations I have for myself, and when I do meet them outwardly, my motivations are often tainted by some remnant of pride. I look around and see the amazing things that others are doing and I rarely measure up in comparison. I lose perspective. I get bitter.
Then I remember what God says about me. That I am so very ordinary in my human-ness, but of extraordinary worth in the eyes of God. That my identity is not found in what I do, but in whom I belong to.
”You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” – 1 Corinthians :11
This is my identity in Christ. I am washed clean. In Christ, I have been brought to fullness. (Colossians 2:10). I look at this nifty list and remember that my life is not my own: Storyline Blog – my identity in Christ. Go Donald Miller.
I remember that I was bought with a price (Jesus’ life and death and life) and that God has saved me from a life that is all about ME. He has saved me by his grace through my faith in Jesus, not because of anything I’ve done. And he has prepared good works for me to do – also not about ME. He has asked me to think about myself less so I have more time to love and serve others. Hear ye Christians, please do not raise money to go on a mission trip as an excuse to travel. Please do not lead a Bible study so you can look cool and spiritual. Please do not apply for NGO jobs because they are hip and trendy and you want to be hip and trendy. Please DO all of the aforementioned things with a pure and humble heart. The people around you need you and the love that you can offer them because of the love extended to you, by God, through Jesus.
So when you’re making decisions, join me in trying to think less about yourself and more about honoring God and serving people. I have a lot of work to do in this area. What will benefit society as a whole? What will reconcile people to each other and to God? What will help people have their basic needs met?
The conventional wisdom of today tells us that true happiness comes in the freedom to pursue whatever we want whenever we want. In my life, that eventually manifested itself as an inability to commit to anything, extreme indecisiveness, and the worst case of wanderlust you’ve ever seen. That is not freedom, it’s slavery to a life and to desires that are all about ME. Take my word for it, or don’t, and spend your entire life searching the world looking for the next best thing.
Now read as Tim Keller puts my thoughts into more eloquent words than I could ever hope to:
1. Put your heart’s deepest trust in God and his grace. Every day remind yourself of his unconditioned, covenantal love for you. Do not instead put your hopes in idols or in your own performance.
“Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all your heart.” (Proverbs 3:3-5a)
2. Submit your whole mind to Scripture. Don’t think you know better than God’s word. Bring it to bear on every area of life. Become a person under authority.
“Lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5b-6)
3. Be humble and teachable toward others. Be forgiving and understanding when you want to be critical of them; be ready to learn from others when they come to be critical of you.
“Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” (Proverbs 3:7-8)
4. Be generous with all your possessions, and passionate about justice. Share your time, talent, and treasure with those who have less.
“Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” (Proverbs 3:9-10)
5. Accept and learn from difficulties and suffering. Through the gospel, recognize them as not punishment, but a way of refining you.
“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” (Proverbs 3:10-11)
As I meditated on these five elements–rooted in his grace, obeying and delighting in his Word, humble before other people, sacrificially generous toward our neighbor, and steadfast in trials–I thought of Jesus.
The New Testament tells us that the personified ‘divine wisdom’ of the Old Testament is actually Jesus.
The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” (Matthew 11:19)
And I realized that:
a) Jesus showed the ultimate trust and faithfulness to God and to us by going to the cross,
b) Jesus was saturated with and shaped by Scripture,
c) Jesus was meek and lowly in heart
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30),
d) Jesus, though rich, became poor for us,
e) and he bore his suffering, for us, without complaint. We can only grow in these five areas if you know you are saved by costly grace. That keeps you from idols, from self-sufficiency and pride, from selfishness with your things, and from crumbling under troubles. Jesus is wisdom personified, and believing his gospel brings these character qualities into your life.