It's how we relate to one another, it's how our society has programmed us to think, and ultimately, it's how we have become to identify ourselves as a people.
"What do you want to be when you grow up?"
Think about it for just a moment. We ask our children this at a very early age, and all through their young lives they are indoctrinated with this simple, yet poignant concept. Even now, as a fifth-year college student with a few half-cooked ideas of what I should major in or pursue in my education, the question still haunts me.
What will I be when I grow up?
The best statement I have ever heard regarding that statement came from the wise mind of my own father. He said, "I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up." And he's in his forties! (Sorry, Dad.) We spend so much time and effort, pursuing that one selfsame idea, and yet...
Look at us.
Our nation is powerful, wealthy, and well off. For the most part, our country is full of successful, career-minded people who picked what they wanted to be and went for it. We send our children to college at a time in their life when they are still mentally trying to wrap their still-developing minds around who they are, and expect them to figure out who they will be. We take out loans to pay for stuff we don't need, and we rank our status based on stuff.
And the more middle-aged people I talk to, the more I realize...
...we still don't get it.
They tell me what they did when they were my age, reminisce on the "good old days," and then tell me, "When I was your age, I wish I..." and proceed to tell me their regrets. Meaning well, they dust off the skeletons in the closet, agonizing about how they wished they had pursued a degree or career path that they (rightly so) think would have financially secured them and made their life better off than it is now.
I look around me, and despite our best efforts to find meaning and success in this simple concept of "career," I still see that most Americans are highly dissatisfied with their own lives. Divorce rates both inside and outside the church are sky-rocketing, substance abuse is rampant, the divine institution of the family is disintegrating, "problem children" in schools are becoming more and more common, and it seems the young people of my generation would rather enjoy a one-night stand than invest solely in one partner for the rest of their lives and cultivate a family. And I can't help but ask...why?
I was talking with one of my instructors after class the other day when the answer tumbled unknowingly out of my own mouth.
"It all depends on where you derive your happiness from."
As Christians, where should our joy, our fulfillment, our meaning and satisfaction come from? Yes, just like in Sunday school, the answer is usually the same...
It's so simple, but based on the evidence I see, we have a much harder time applying this concept to our daily lives.
Are we pursuing career, or are we pursuing Christ?
Are we pursuing money, or are we pursuing meaning?
Are we pursuing pleasure, or are we pursuing people?
Are we pursuing life for ourselves, or are we pursuing love for the people around us?
It all comes back to the Gospel. Christ died for us, even though we chase things that will fade away with time, even though we turn our backs to Him, choosing to try and satisfy ourselves with stuff that we think will make us happy, all the while He is waiting for us to run to Him, with His arms spread open wide.
He has a plan and purpose for each and every one of us. Don't get me wrong, that plan might even include going to college and pursuing a degree. It might include a career. But our pursuit of a career must be for the right reasons, not for personal gain, not for money or status. Because that makes your career your justification, your purpose, your meaning in life, and trust me when I say it will fail you. When you are on death's doorstep, you will not be thinking, "Boy, am I glad I made so much money in my lifetime!" I don't know exactly what you will be thinking, but it won't be that, I can almost guarantee it.
In the end, we all die, and we all fit in the same 2' by 6' hole (anatomical anomalies aside). Skeletons are not labeled "doctor," or "engineer," or even "successful." Dead. We are all labeled as dead. Harsh? Yes, perhaps. But true.
And isn't it a little harsh, that Christ went through all that He did for us, and yet we still get caught up in this world and the empty pleasures it tries to tempt us with?
I know that my pursuit of an education should only ever be to put me in a place where God can use me for His purposes, where I can love people and store up treasures in heaven, pursuing the Kingdom of God while I have breath in my lungs. Why even wait for a career to do that, though? Because, in the end, my stuff and career and job and education mean nothing. What matters is how I used the tools God gave me and blessed me with. People are what matter, and Christ is who matters the most.
What we will be when we grow up is children of God. It is who we are now. Our identity and purpose reside in the beautiful truth that we are saved by God's grace, and that should be more than enough for us. His grace is sufficient for us, as hard as that might be to believe. It's the truth.
So go out, make disciples of God, and pursue Christ as He pursues you.